Michael Gove has described claims Boris Johnson “skipped” key Cobra meetings in the run-up to the coronavirus outbreak as “grotesque” – before later admitting the Prime Minister didn’t attend them.
The PM was accused of missing five meetings of the committee as the crisis loomed in a report published by the Sunday Times, which stated opportunities had been missed by the Government in January, February and March to lessen its impact.
An unnamed senior Downing Street advisor was quoted in the newspaper, saying: “And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends.
“It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”
However, Gove defended Johnson and told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday the PM “took all the major decisions”.
He said: “The idea that the Prime Minister skipped meetings that were vital to our response to the coronavirus, I think is grotesque.
“The truth is that there are meetings across government, some of which are chaired by the health secretary, some of which are chaired by other ministers, but the Prime Minister took all the major decisions.
“Nobody can say that the Prime Minister wasn’t throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus. His leadership has been clear.
“He’s been inspirational at times.”
In a subsequent interview, on the Andrew Marr Show, Gove confirmed the PM did not attend the five Cobra meetings.
Gove said: “He didn’t. But then he wouldn’t.
“Because most Cobra meetings don’t have the Prime Minister attending them. That is the whole point… Cobra meetings are led by the relevant secretary of state in the relevant area.”
A Downing Street spokesman added: “Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support in needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.
“The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”