Cobra crisis: Pressure on Boris Johnson to hold emergency meeting as Covid fears deepen

18 September 2020, 15:29

Boris Johnson is under pressure to convene a meeting of Cobra
Boris Johnson is under pressure to convene a meeting of Cobra. Picture: PA
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

LBC's Political Editor Theo Usherwood looks at the state of relations between No 10, City Hall and the devolved powers as the need for an emergency Cobra meeting grows.

Sadiq Khan’s admission on LBC that he has not spoken to the Prime Minister since the last time he held a meeting of the Government’s emergencies committee, Cobra, at the beginning of May gives a clear indication as to how low relations between City Hall and national government have fallen in recent months, and at a time of national crisis.

The Mayor of London and Number 10 had appeared to put party political differences aside at the start of the pandemic. London’s transport infrastructure - for which the mayor is responsible - was under immense strain during the first weeks of lockdown. Bus drivers were at particular risk of contracting the disease, and City Hall was an important cog in the wheel of the government machine.

But with continuing rows over the handling of the crisis, the failure to provide protective equipment, to protect TfL staff, and to get a mass testing regime up and running, the mayor and the Prime Minister somewhat inevitably fell out.

Perhaps more revealing from the mayor of course is the fact that Cobra hasn’t actually met at all - even without the likes of himself, Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon, the political leaders of Wales and Scotland respectively.

It's worth remembering of course that Boris Johnson faced criticism at the very start of the year, when he failed to chair the first five meetings of Cobra relating to the imminent outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK.

Number 10 said that was perfectly normal, and former Prime Minister’s often left it to others - in this case Health Secretary Matt Hancock - to lead the committee.

But one former PM David Cameron, who has recently been reluctant to criticise Boris Johnson, made a sideswipe in an interview with LBC’s Iain Dale yesterday when he told him that “if the Prime Minister really gets involved (in Cobra), you can really make things happen faster”.

With the prospect now of a nationwide “circuit break” lockdown, the pressure is on Number 10 to start engaging with the likes of Sturgeon, Drakeford and Khan.

The obvious way to do this is to convene a meeting of Cobra.

However, given the depths to which relations have plummeted, it is unlikely this will happen in the short term, if at all.