Boris Johnson orders shake-up of Downing Street coronavirus response

Reorganisation comes after Simon Case returns to civil service as No.10 perm sec


Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/PA Images

Boris Johnson has ordered a major shake-up of the Downing Street coronavirus response following a rocky few weeks for No.10.

Johnson will personally chair a new strategy committee dubbed ‘CS’, while Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will take charge of an operations committee known as ‘CO’ – a process that mirrors the government’s Brexit planning set-up from last year.

But the reorganisation comes as the prime minister faces considerable criticism over the government’s response to coronavirus, with opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer telling Johnson to “get a grip and restore public confidence in the government’s handling of the epidemic”.


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The government’s poll ratings have slipped in recent days amid a bitter row over Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings’s decision to make a 260-mile trip from Durham to London during the lockdown.

The Telegraphwhich first reported the Whitehall rejig, says the move could curb Cummings's influence.

The new set-up will meanwhile replace four previous ministerial groups that were put in place at the start of the crisis to cover foreign affairs, health, public services, and the economy and business.

No.10’s regular morning Covid-19 committee meeting is also facing the chop, while Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday that it was ending weekend press conferences to instead focus on weekday appearances for cabinet ministers.

The moves follow the appointment of Simon Case, a former senior Brexit official, to the newly-created role of No.10 permanent secretary.

The experienced official, who was previously Theresa May’s principal private secretary, was brought back into the government from a role with the Royal Household.

A senior Conservative source told the Telegraph that the reorganisation would help "to bring some order" to the decision-making process in No.10.

They added: "Boris has decided that Cummings is there, but he is going to take more direct control. It is coming out of frustration – you are seeing his reawakening after a tough old time with the Covid-19 attack.”

"Exit without a strategy"

But, hitting out at the government in an interview with the Guardian, Starmer said the decision to ease a wave of lockdown measures at the start of this week risked “an exit without a strategy”.

“I am putting the prime minister on notice that he has got to get a grip and restore public confidence in the government’s handling of the epidemic,” he said. 

“If we see a sharp rise in the R rate, the infection rate, or a swathe of local lockdowns, responsibility for that falls squarely at the door of No.10. 

“We all know the public have made huge sacrifices. This mismanagement of the last few weeks is the responsibility of the government.”

The Labour leader added: “My [worry] is that after a week or more of mismanagement, I’m deeply concerned the government has made a difficult situation ten times worse... 

“There is a growing concern the government is now winging it.

“At precisely the time when there should have been maximum trust in the government, confidence has collapsed."

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