‘Who’s in charge of this plan. Is it you?’ How Boris Johnson and UK’s most senior civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill clashed over route out of lockdown – as one adviser calls the planning a ‘sh**show’
- Boris Johnson and Sir Mark Sedwill said to have had a ‘tense’ stand off last week
- The PM and the top civil servant clashed over who is responsible for virus plan
- There are growing fears within Civil Service that they could be used as ‘fall guys’
- Meanwhile, plan to quarantine travellers to UK has prompted Cabinet divisions
- One adviser said row over who should be exempted from plan was a ‘sh**show
Boris Johnson and the UK’s top civil servant Sir Mark Sedwill clashed over who is responsible for rolling out the Government’s lockdown exit strategy, it was claimed today.
The Prime Minister and Sir Mark are said to have had a ‘tense’ standoff when the plans to ease restrictions were being discussed at a meeting last week.
Mr Johnson apparently asked the room who was responsible for actually implementing the measures contained within the blueprint.
He asked Sir Mark if it was him, but the head of the Civil Service replied it was up to the PM to make sure things happen.
The claims came amid reports of growing splits between ministers and senior civil servants.
Mandarins fear they are being lined as coronavirus ‘fall guys’ ahead of an inevitable public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the crisis.
Meanwhile, a plan to quarantine travellers returning to the UK has prompted a Cabinet split over who it should apply to with aides concerned it is rapidly becoming a ‘sh**show’.
Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street on May 15, is said to have had a ‘tense’ stand off with Sir Mark Sedwill over who is responsible for implementing the Government’s coronavirus plan
Sir Mark, pictured with Mr Johnson inside Number 10 on July 24 last year, apparently told the PM at a meeting last week that it is the premier’s responsibility to roll out the plan
Mr Johnson and Sir Mark clashed early last week after the PM had used an address to the nation to set out his lockdown exit strategy, according to two sources cited by The Sunday Times.
During a meeting Mr Johnson is said to have listened as the specifics of the plan were discussed before asking: ‘Who is in charge of implementing this delivery plan?’
One of the sources said that silence followed before the PM looked at Sir Mark and said: ‘Is it you?’
Sir Mark then reportedly replied: ‘No, I think it’s you, prime minister.’
Sir Mark’s role in the Government’s handling of the crisis has faced intense scrutiny in recent days after it emerged he had coronavirus at approximately the same time as the Prime Minister.
Downing Street only revealed his illness six weeks after the fact, sparking a furious secrecy row.
Sir Mark worked from home when he was unwell and Downing Street insisted he was carrying out all of his duties as normal.
Some MPs believe Sir Mark, who also serves as the Government’s National Security Adviser, is spread too thinly and should hand over his NSA brief to someone else.
One aide told the newspaper: ‘People are not such fans of Sedwill.
‘He’s doing three or four jobs: head of the Civil Service, National Security Adviser, adviser to the Prime Minister and leading the Covid stuff.
‘He never quite articulates what he’s up to.’
There is a growing fear in Whitehall that ministers could blame civil servants for mistakes made during the outbreak with all eyes now turning to a future public probe which is viewed as inevitable.
One source said: ‘There is frustration in the system that they are not sure how to deliver this plan. They think it’s a bit of a mess.’
It came amid a growing Cabinet split over the Government’s plan to quarantine returning travellers to the UK.
The row between Sir Mark and Mr Johnson, pictured at a Cabinet meeting in February, came after it emerged the top civil servant had coronavirus at approximately the same time as the PM
Full details are expected to be announced within the next two weeks with people coming back to Britain told to self-isolate for two weeks.
However, a row is rumbling within Government over who should be exempted from the policy.
Some ministers want numerous exemptions amid fears a firm clampdown will spook business but others are in favour of more stringent controls to stop a second wave of the disease.
It was originally thought travellers from France would be exempt but Downing Street has now rowed back on that.
It is thought lorry drivers and scientists involved in coronavirus-related work will not be subject to the rules.
One adviser told The Sunday Times the quarantine plan is ‘a sh**show’ with ministers struggling to agree on the details of the policy.