Michael Gove admits Boris Johnson missed five Cobra meetings but says he was not required

Michael Gove is questioned about Boris Johnson skipping coronavirus cobra meetings. Photograph: BBC.

Michael Gove is questioned about Boris Johnson skipping coronavirus cobra meetings. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

Michael Gove has confirmed that Boris Johnson missed five Cobra meetings about coronavirus, but insisted this was because the prime minister was not required.

Asked about the Sunday Times report on the government's handling of coronavirus, Gove told Sky News's Sophy Ridge: 'There are meetings across government, some which are chaired by the health secretary, some chaired by other ministers.

'The PM took all the major decisions. No one can suggest the PM wasn't throwing his heart and soul into fighting this virus.

'This leadership has been clear, has been inspirational at times. Nothing is more off-beam than the suggestion that the PM was anything other than energetic, focused and strong in his leadership against this virus'.

But he later told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show that 'most Cobra meetings don't have the prime minister attending them'.

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He said Cobra meetings were 'led by the relevant secretary of state in the relevant area'.

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'Whoever is chairing those meetings reports to the prime minister. The prime minister is aware of all of these decisions and takes some of those decisions. You can take a single fact, wrench it out of context, whip it up in order to create a j'accuse narrative. But that is not fair reporting.'

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth later argued Gove's line that one or two aspects of the story were 'off beam' is 'possibly the weakest rebuttal of a detailed expose in British political history'.

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He told Ridge on Sunday: 'There are serious questions as to why the prime minister skipped five Cobra meetings throughout February, when the whole world could see how serious this was becoming.

'And we know that serious mistakes have been made, we know that our front-line NHS staff don't have the PPE, that they've been told this weekend that they won't necessarily have the gowns which are vital to keep them safe.

'We know that our testing capacity is not at the level that is needed.

MORE: Michael Gove dismisses Sunday Times report over government's response to coronavirus

'We know that the ventilators that many hospitals have received are the wrong types of ventilators and there are big questions as to whether we went into this lockdown too slowly, and now we hear the prime minister missed five meetings at the start of this outbreak.

'It suggests that early on he was missing in action.'

Gove told said that Johnson was 'recovering well' at Chequers, his country estate, following treatment for Covid-19 in intensive care at St Thomas' Hospital in London earlier this month.

'He had the opportunity to talk to Dominic Raab, his deputy, the first secretary of state, on Friday.

'And the prime minister's instructions to the rest of us in government were communicated by the the first secretary of state when we had a conference call yesterday morning.'

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