Dominic Raab has rejected calls for the government to reveal who sits on the scientific committee advising on its coronavirus response, amid a row over the role played by senior No.10 aide Dominic Cummings.
The foreign secretary, who has been standing in for Boris Johnson ahead of the prime minister's return to work today, said there were concerns that making public the membership of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE, could put those on it at risk of “pressure” and “undue influence”.
Labour, as well as Conservative MPs David Davis and Greg Clark, have called on the government to shed more light on the committee after the Guardian revealed that Cummings had attended key meetings.
Davis called on the government to publish the full membership of SAGE, and demanded the removal of “any non-scientist members”, while former chief scientific adviser Sir David King said it would be “simply inappropriate” for Cummings to play a major role in the committee’s work.
The membership of SAGE, which was set up under former chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington to provide scientific advice in national crises, changes according to the scenario it is addressing. It is made up of both officials and external scientists who are called in to provide expertise on specialist areas.
No.10 has already pushed back strongly at the Guardian’s story, which reports that Cummings and Ben Warner, a data scientist who worked on the Vote Leave EU membership referendum campaign in 2016, were among 23 attendees present at a SAGE meeting on the day Boris Johnson introduced a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
Downing Street said: “SAGE provides independent scientific advice to the government. Political advisers have no role in this.”
Raab said on Sunday that SAGE already released its advice “a couple of weeks” after it had been discussed to ensure it was “properly tested and carefully checked before being put out”.
But he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge: “We don’t release as a matter of practice the names of all the members of SAGE because the risk of them being subject to pressure, undue influence things like that.”
And the foreign secretary rejected claims there had been a “lack of transparency” from the government over the work of the top advisory group.
“We’ve had the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, along with politicians like me standing up on a daily basis answering the questions, setting out their advice and making sure that we communicate as clearly as possible to the public what that advice is,” he said.