MI5 activated pandemic emergency plan in early February after warnings

9 June 2020, 08:49

Former MI5 Director-General Sir Andrew Parker
Former MI5 Director-General Sir Andrew Parker. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

MI5 activated its pandemic emergency plan earlier than other departments of the Government after being told coronavirus was set to impact the UK, the former head of the Security Service has revealed.

Sir Andrew Parker, who stepped down from the top job at MI5 last month, told a webinar for the Royal Society of Medicine that the spy agency started implementing their emergency plan as soon as it looked like there was a prospect of the coronavirus pandemic coming.

Sir Andrew stepped down after 35 years working for MI5, the last seven years as Director-General.

The ex-senior spy said he was acting on advice from the Government's top scientists and he believed the prospect of a pandemic was high.

“When this was being discussed as a prospective pandemic early in February . . . the professional advice from the chief scientific adviser and chief medical officer was pretty clear that the prospects were high and strong that this was going to happen,” he said.

“In MI5 we had a contingency plan for that and so we started implementing that as soon as it looked like there was a prospect of the pandemic coming.

“A lot of this revolves around how in an organisation like MI5, which is essential for the country through any circumstance, you can sustain an MI5 though periods when there might be large-scale staff absence. There are contingency plans for every different sort of national security risk and that’s the reason for having a national security risk assessment, so there can be some preparation.”

The Times reported that Sir Andrew believed the Government response to the crisis had been “pretty good” but there would have to be a “lessons learnt” review.

The newspaper said the ex-spy warned against an “orgy of recrimination”, saying: “When people ask, ‘Wouldn’t it have been better if three months ago you had done X, Y and Z?’ I don’t know how that helps. Those are the things you ask afterwards when you look back at how the whole system could be made stronger.”