Boris Johnson finally convenes his Cabinet for its first face-to-face meeting in almost FIVE MONTHS as ministers sit at least one metre apart but do NOT wear face masks
- Ministers today met in a large room in the palatial Foreign Office building
- It is the first face to face meeting since March 17, with Zoom used since then
- Ministers had to wash their hands but they were not required to wear face masks
Boris Johnson convened his Cabinet for its first face-to-face meeting in four and a half months this morning as the PM and his senior ministers gathered inside without wearing face masks.
Mr Johnson summoned his top team to the Foreign Office – chosen because it has more space than Number 10 – for its regular weekly meeting as the UK Government finally ditched Zoom for talks in person.
Downing Street had insisted that ministers would sit at least one metre apart and that they would be told to wash their hands at the start and end of the meeting.
Meanwhile, everyone in attendance was given their own individual water jug and glass to prevent contamination.
However, no one was required to wear a mask despite the Government’s official guidelines stating that people working together should be ‘wearing face coverings when distances of two metres cannot be kept in indoor environments where possible’.
Boris Johnson today convened his Cabinet for a meeting at the Foreign Office – the first time it has met in person in almost five months
Downing Street said ministers would be told to sit at least one metre apart but they would not be asked to wear face masks. Mr Johnson is pictured sat next to Chancellor Rishi Sunak
The Locarno conference room at the Foreign Office will be used for Cabinet meetings for the foreseeable future
Downing Street had said Mr Johnson wanted to set an example to workers after last week unveiling a timetable to further ease the lockdown and get more workers back at their desks.
He lifted restrictions on using public transport and workers will be encouraged to resume their normal commutes in August, in a bid to breathe life back into retail and hospitality firms.
The last time the Cabinet met in person was on March 17, before the lockdown began.
Mr Johnson has since met ministers remotely using video conferencing equipment.
His official spokesman told reporters yesterday: ‘As we move forward with the coronavirus recovery and more people return to work in person, the PM felt that it was right for the Cabinet to come together and have a face-to-face meeting.
‘Essentially we will be following all the Covid-secure guidance we set out for businesses when they are considering having this kind of meeting.’
Asked whether ministers would be wearing face coverings, he added: ‘I’m not expecting so.’
He added: ‘It is a large room that has been chosen in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and it will be properly ventilated and in terms of the steps which are being taken there will be a supply of hand sanitiser and members of the Cabinet will have individual water jugs and glasses and they will be socially distanced. So that will be to a minimum of one metre.’
Usually, ministers are crammed around the famous coffin-shaped table in 10 Downing Street.
But today they used the vast Locarno Suite of the Foreign Office, which has been converted into a temporary Cabinet Room.
Nicknamed the ‘drawing room of the nation’, the ornate gold-painted staterooms usually play host to visiting world leaders.
But the rooms are now expected to house Mr Johnson’s 26-strong team until the Covid-19 crisis is over.
The last time the Cabinet met in person was on March 17, before the coronavirus lockdown began
Mr Johnson has since met ministers remotely using video conferencing equipment including Zoom
It came as Mr Johnson’s Government came under fire over its ‘illogical’ advice on face coverings, with scientists urging ministers to make them compulsory at work as well as on public transport.
Mr Johnson set out at a briefing on Friday his timetable for the further loosening of coronavirus restrictions as he said he hopes the UK will be back to something close to normal by Christmas.
Sir Patrick and Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, were both notably absent from the PM’s press conference, in a move which further ignited speculation of a worsening split between ministers and their experts.
Appearing before MPs on Thursday Sir Patrick said there is ‘absolutely no reason’ to change the current work from home guidance.
He said the UK is ‘still at a time when distancing measures are important’ and that working remotely ‘remains a perfectly good option’.
He then went even further as he said many companies had found working from home had not been ‘detrimental to productivity’ and as a result there is no need to move away from the policy.