Boris Johnson ‘didn’t like skipping school to attend Covid Cobra meetings’, a senior official says.
Helen Macnamara, who was deputy cabinet minister, will tell the Covid inquiry this week that Boris Johnson was ‘never prepared’ for emergency Cobra meetings while he was prime minister
Boris Johnson did not like attending Cobra meetings in the pandemic because he did not want to leave his studies, a former senior government official will tell Covid Inquiry this week.
Helen McNamara, who was deputy cabinet minister, will reveal how the former Prime Minister was “never enthusiastic” about the Emergency Response Committee meeting because he did not feel it was “his territory”. Johnson skipped five Cobra meetings at the start of 2020 as the government failed to adequately prepare for the pandemic.
The Covid inquiry this week will hear testimony from Mr Johnson’s top officials at the time, including Dominic Cummings, former communications chief Lee Cain and Ms McNamara.
In a witness statement, submitted as evidence ahead of her appearance on Wednesday, the former deputy cabinet minister wrote: “One of the challenges was recognizing the need to shift to another level… We were slow to act at every point. In early March, it seemed as if the crisis had accelerated dramatically and the system was always operating at a very low pace.
She added: “There was no time to plan and prepare… It was all about running to catch up to where we should have been. This was made more difficult because it was also important that it did not seem that way given the importance of maintaining public confidence. If we look In retrospect, I think it might have been better to share more widely within Whitehall how bad the situation was for us.
Ms McNamara, who was the second most senior civil servant, told how the first two weeks of March 2020 were “consumed by business as usual”, which she admitted “seems strange in retrospect”. She said she was dealing with other issues including an investigation into alleged bullying by then Home Secretary Priti Patel and the government’s proposal to move the House of Lords to York.
In her statement, Ms McNamara told how Cobra meetings – or COBR meetings as they are officially known as the acronym for Cabinet Office Briefing Room – did not sit well with Mr Johnson. “One thing we should have done earlier was to move away from the decision-making structure of COBR,” she wrote. “Johnson was never prepared for COBR – it would not have suited his working style to have him come down to the basement of the Cabinet Office, away from his desk.” And his political team.
“Unusually in my experience with prime ministers, he clearly felt that this was not his area. When the COVID-19 situation became more urgent, it did not work, and it certainly will not work as the crisis worsens. “It was not the right position for the Prime Minister to be able to ask the right questions and have frank and full discussions.”
Ms McNamara left the civil service in February 2021 and joined the Premier League, although she has since resigned from that position as well.
In April last year, she apologized for an “error of judgement” after being fined by the Metropolitan Police for attending a lockdown-breaking party held at the Cabinet Office in June 2020. Sue Gray’s report said Ms McNamara was the government official who brought a karaoke party to the event. , which was organized as a departure act for another government employee. The “noisy” gathering, which continued until 3:13 a.m. the next day, ended with one person falling ill and two others getting into a physical altercation.