Lack of clarity over Dominic Raab's role as Boris Johnson remains in intensive care

Ministers have insisted the business of Government will carry on after Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care following a worsening of his coronavirus symptoms, despite a lack of clarity over the powers afforded to deputy Dominc Raab.

Tuesday, 7th April 2020, 11:47 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th April 2020, 11:48 am

The Prime Minister was transferred to the intensive care unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London on yesterday evening as what was said to be a “precaution” in case he needed to be put on a ventilator.

Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove said Mr Johnson has received “oxygen support” but is not on a ventilator.

“He is kept, of course, under close supervision,” he told LBC radio.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab leaving 10 Downing Street, London, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in hospital following his admission on Sunday with continuing coronavirus symptoms. Photo: PA
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab leaving 10 Downing Street, London, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in hospital following his admission on Sunday with continuing coronavirus symptoms. Photo: PA

“By being in intensive care, if there is further support he needs, it is there at hand.

“But the Prime Minister has not been on a ventilator.”

In Mr Johnson’s absence, Mr Raab, the Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State, is standing in for him “where necessary”.

But Lord Heseltine, who served as deputy prime minister under Conservative prime minister Sir John Major, said there “isn’t a clarity” about what Mr Raab can do as deputy, noting: “I was deputy prime minister but I was never prime minister, if you know what I mean.

“In other words, John Major was always in good health and in touch so the questions never really arose.

“There must come a time when a deputy is effectively prime minister, I don’t think we’ve probably quite got to that now but the present urgency of the situation and the potential decisions that may need to be taken quickly does mean that Dominic Raab will have to use his discretion and know when to act.

“This is a very difficult thing to do because he will be surrounded by lots of people who know what Boris Johnson said, believe Boris will be quickly back and have their own personal agendas anyway, so it’s a very difficult personal position and the man will be tested by the loneliness of the job.”

The pressure on the Government was underlined when it emerged that Mr Gove – one of the senior ministers leading the Government’s response to the crisis – had been forced to self-isolate after a family member displayed symptoms.

The deterioration in the Prime Minister’s condition comes at a critical moment in the coronavirus crisis, with the epidemic expected to reach its peak in the UK in the coming days.

There was a palpable sense of shock in Westminster and beyond at the speed of his apparent decline following his admission to hospital on Sunday.

Downing Street said at the time that the move was a “precautionary step” as his symptoms of a cough and high temperature were continuing to persist after 10 days in self-isolation.

Initially he was said to have been continuing to work from his hospital bed and was receiving his ministerial red boxes.

But by 7pm on Monday, the decision was made to transfer him to intensive care so that a ventilator was close at hand if required.

The Cabinet was informed shortly afterwards and the move was made public in an announcement by Number 10 shortly after 8pm.

Mr Gove said Mr Johnson is receiving the “very, very best care” and insisted that the government machine is continuing to function.

“We’re all working together to implement the plan the Prime Minister set out in order to try to ensure that we can marshal all the resources of Government, indeed all the resources of our country, in the fight against this invisible enemy,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“The work of Government goes on.

“We have a superb Civil Service and they have ensured that the machinery is there for decisions to be made by ministers, by medical and scientific experts, and for those decisions to be followed through in a way which enables us to help those at the front line.”

For a second day, Mr Raab was standing in for the Prime Minister, leading the Government’s daily coronavirus “war cabinet” meeting.

In a short statement on Monday, he said he would continue to follow the direction set by Mr Johnson for tackling the outbreak.

New Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he had spoken to Mr Raab, offering to work “constructively” with ministers to get through the crisis.

“People are clearly anxious. I know the business of government will continue,” he said.

“I was in touch with the Foreign Secretary last night, and I want to say that the Labour Party will act in the national interest.

“That’s why I have offered to act constructively with the Government and support them where that’s the right thing to do, and push them further where we need to do it.”

The Prime Minister’s admission to intensive care raised concerns that he had been pushing himself too hard, continuing to lead the work of government while in self-isolation.

However, former Tory Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it was natural that he should want to carry on for as long as he could.

“The Boris I know is a fighter, he never gives up,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“The truth is, he’s Prime Minister. He was elected to run this country, and no prime minister is going to suddenly say ‘Look, I’m not well, I’m just gonna let somebody else do it’.

“He does it up until the point, quite rightly, where he feels he can no longer contribute, because of the circumstances surrounding his illness. And I think he’s done that. Now that may have taken its toll.”

Mr Johnson’s condition means that his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant with their first child, is unable to visit him in hospital.

She said at the weekend that she is “on the mend” after herself being forced to self-isolate after displaying symptoms of the disease.