Raab! Not Gove! Boris's croaked instruction to officials on who should take reins of power

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How Boris Johnson told officials that Dominic Raab, not Michael Gove, should take the reins of power as he was rushed to hospital with Covid

PM made his sickbed wishes abundantly clear as he battled the virus last AprilDirective not unexpected due to tension between Mr Johnson and Michael GoveDominic Raab's steady, unshowy performance in press briefings won gratitude

By Glen Owen Political Editor For The Mail On Sunday

Published: 22:01 GMT, 20 March 2021 | Updated: 22:19 GMT, 20 March 2021

It has all the flourishes of an overblown melodrama: a stricken leader croaking out a desperate final instruction to his gathered aides as he fights for his life.

And as Boris Johnson prepared to be admitted to hospital with a near-fatal case of Covid last April, he made his sickbed wishes abundantly clear.

'Raab! Not Gove!' the Prime Minister rasped, leaving no doubt about which of his lieutenants should take the reins of power while he was incapacitated.

The directive was not, perhaps, unexpected: at the time, trust between Mr Johnson and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, was, to put it mildly, not high.

Dominic Raab's steady, unshowy performance at press briefings, right, earned the gratitude of Mr Johnson, left, when he returned to Downing Street

Just four years earlier, Mr Gove had been Mr Johnson's political assassin in the post-referendum Tory leadership campaign, and was still working to persuade Mr Johnson of his loyalty. 

So Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was entrusted to be the stand-in as the Prime Minister embarked on his fight for life at St Thomas's Hospital.

Mr Raab's steady, unshowy performance earned the gratitude of Mr Johnson when he returned to Downing Street. As for Mr Gove, relations appear to have been patched up. 

An ally of Mr Johnson says: 'Boris and Michael work very closely on a number of policy areas, and relations are now good.'

The story has emerged as Mr Johnson's former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, prepares to give public evidence about the decisions taken in Downing Street at the height of the crisis. 

His decision to speak out has led to intense nervousness among officials about what the maverick aide will reveal about the timings of lockdowns and the balance between protecting the NHS and the economy.

The directive was not, perhaps, unexpected: at the time, trust between Mr Johnson and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, was, to put it mildly, not high

Early missteps over masks, testing, protective equipment and quarantine for travellers, as well as rows about whether a policy of herd immunity was being pursued, will all be aired when Mr Cummings appears before the Commons Health Committee in May. 

He is expected to argue that Mr Johnson imposed the second lockdown too late last autumn, under pressure from a more cavalier wing of Tory backbenchers.

Mr Cummings was present at a meeting on September 18 when Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, and others including Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, tried in vain to persuade Mr Johnson to introduce a two-week 'circuit breaker' lockdown to stop the 'crash' of a second wave.

At the start of that month, the number of new Covid-19 cases had been averaging about 2,200 a day; by the time of the meeting it was nearly 5,000. Because of his fears for the economy, Mr Johnson did not announce the second lockdown until cases were heading towards 30,000 a day at the end of October.

Mr Cummings gave a taster of his likely evidence on Wednesday, when he told the Commons Science Committee that the Department of Health had a 'total disaster' with its procurement of personal protective equipment. 

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