Revealed: Boris Johnson scrapped Cabinet Ministers pandemic team six months before coronavirus hit Britain
- The PM abolished the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee
- MPs such as Michael Gove and Matt Hancock were part of the pandemic team
- The group was scrapped by Mr Johnson just days after he entered No10 last July
- COVID-19 hit the UK six months later – and has claimed 41,841 lives so far
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Boris Johnson scrapped a team of Cabinet ministers tasked with protecting the UK from a pandemic six months before coronavirus arrived, a Mail investigation has found.
The Government’s ‘anti-pandemic committee’, which included senior ministers Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson, was disbanded without discussing virus control plans.
The group, officially known as the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee (THRCC), was supposed to ensure the UK was ready to cope with a pandemic.
In July 2019, Boris Johnson scrapped a ‘pandemic team’ just six months before the virus hit the UK, a Mail investigation has learned
But it was mothballed by former prime minister Theresa May on the advice of Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill so ministers and officials could focus on Brexit.
It was abolished by Mr Johnson days after he entered No10 last July as part of a vow to streamline Whitehall.
Six months later Covid-19 arrived.
Experts claim the Prime Minister’s delay in ordering a lockdown is partly why the UK’s death toll is so high.
Last night, a former Cabinet minister who was a member of THRCC until it was axed said it could have ensured the Government reacted more quickly to coronavirus, adding: ‘Once the pandemic took hold in Italy… alarm bells would have been ringing.
Senior MPs Michael Gove (pictured left) and Matt Hancock (right) were part of the Cabinet team tasked with discussing virus control plans
Fellow Tory MP Gavin Williamson (pictured) was also part of the pandemic team
‘We would have stress-tested the Government’s contingency plans for dealing with a pandemic.’
The disclosure that the committee was scrapped is embarrassing for Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who would be a member were it still running.
In July 2018 he was the security minister behind a Home Office report that insisted THRCC had a vital role in guarding against a pandemic.
Mr Wallace’s ‘biological security strategy’ said an influenza pandemic was ‘one of the most significant civil emergency risks facing the UK’, adding: ‘Such an outbreak could have the potential to cause hundreds of thousands of fatalities and cost the UK tens of billions of pounds.
‘Significant outbreaks of disease are among the highest impact risks faced by any society, threatening lives and causing disruption to public services and the economy.’
The THRCC was a sub-committee of the National Security Council (NSC), which is chaired by Mr Johnson and made up of intelligence chiefs and senior ministers.
Fifteen Cabinet ministers sat on the THRCC, which was chaired by Mrs May’s deputy prime minister David Lidington. Members included chancellor Philip Hammond, home secretary Sajid Javid and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.
A former minister said fears that the UK was heading for a No Deal Brexit led to THRCC being wound down in late 2018 by Sir Mark, adding: ‘We were having to spend more time on EU exit strategy and less on everything else.
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed 41,481 lives in the UK with the nation going into lockdown at the end of March
‘It was felt that if we were going to get our ducks in a row to prepare for the risk of a No Deal scenario we had to slow down on things including THRCC.’
Labour’s ex-foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett, who chairs the National Security Council Committee that oversees the NSC, pledged to investigate the axing of the THRCC as part of a cross-party inquiry into the Government’s readiness for a pandemic.
She said: ‘The role of the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency sub-committee is exactly the kind of thing we will take an interest in.’
No10 and Mr Wallace declined to comment. The Cabinet Office said: ‘The Government has taken the right steps at the right time to combat this pandemic. We regularly test our pandemic plans.’
Additional reporting: Owen Bennett
CHIEF NURSE ‘DROPPED FROM NO10 BRIEFING OVER CUMMINGS’
Not supportive: England’s chief nurse Ruth May was dropped from a No10 press briefing
By Sophie Borland, Health Editor for the Daily Mail
England’s chief nurse was dropped from a Downing Street press briefings for refusing to back Dominic Cummings, it has been claimed.
Ruth May (above) had been due to appear on June 1 alongside Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But during practice questions just before the briefing, she was asked about the Prime Minister’s chief aide and his apparent breach of the lockdown rules.
She refused to support him and was withdrawn from the event, senior NHS sources claimed.
Two days earlier the deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam had suggested at the conference that he was uneasy about Mr Cummings’s actions by saying the lockdown rules ‘apply to all’.
He has not appeared at the press conferences since.
A senior NHS source told The Independent: ‘Everyone is being asked to support the Government positions prior to doing a press conference. If they don’t, they get dropped.
Mrs May (right) was due to appear with Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) on June 1 but was withdrawn after not supporting Dominic Cummings following the Tory aide’s scandal
‘First it was Dominic Cummings, then easing lockdown and now the R-rate and the two-metre rule.’
No 10 denied Mrs May was dropped for her views on Mr Cummings and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said at last night’s daily briefing: ‘I don’t think this is true.’
Mr Cummings travelled 260 miles to Durham in March with his wife – who was displaying virus symptoms – and their son.
He also admitted driving 30 miles south to the market town of Barnard Castle, claiming it was to test his eyesight.