Boris Johnson scrapped the government’s Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee (THRCC) six months before the coronavirus arrived in Britain so they could focus on Brexit.
The ‘anti-pandemic committee’, which included senior ministers such as Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson, was scrapped before having an opportunity to discuss Covid-19, the Daily Mail reports.
The THRCC – a sub-committee of the National Security Council – was intended to ensure the UK was ready to deal with a pandemic.
But outgoing cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill advised Downing Street that the committee should be wound down to dedicate the resource to dealing with a no-deal Brexit, which was scheduled for October 31.
When Johnson arrived at Number 10 in July he vowed to streamline Whitehall, abolishing the team following the advice, allowing Brexit to be the focus six months before the pandemic broke out.
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A former cabinet minister, who sat on the THRCC until it was axed, said it could have led to a quick response from the government.
They told the newspaper: ‘Once the pandemic took hold in Italy… alarm bells would have been ringing.
‘We would have stress-tested the government’s contingency plans for dealing with a pandemic.’
Another ex-minister claimed that Brexit had taken up the government’s time, explaining: ‘We were having to spend more time on EU exit strategy and less on everything else.
‘It was felt that if we were going to get our ducks in a row to prepare for the risk of a No Deal scenario we had to slow down on things including THRCC.’
Margaret Beckett, a Labour MP who chairs the National Security Council Committee, said the decision to axe the committee must form part of a cross-party inquiry into the government response.
She said: ‘The role of the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency sub-committee is exactly the kind of thing we will take an interest in.’
Downing Street refused to comment on the report.
The Cabinet Office said: ‘The government has taken the right steps at the right time to combat this pandemic. We regularly test our pandemic plans.’