Cabinet fights over ‘designated survivor’ role
Cabinet members jostle for position in event prime minister is taken ill
Infighting has erupted over who will lead the government’s response to the coronavirus in the event that the prime minister is taken ill.
The Sunday Times reports that the “designated survivor” plan, so-named because it echoes the plot of the television series in which Kiefer Sutherland’s character becomes president after the rest of the cabinet is killed, has “unleashed a bout of infighting among cabinet ministers over the chain of command”.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, as first Secretary of State and officially Boris Johnson’s de facto deputy, would traditionally stand-in for the prime minister if he was forced to self-isolate. However, other senior cabinet members are vying to be named “chief executive” on coronavirus.
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Raab, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock each chair a committee coordinating response to the crisis, with Gove and Hancock specifically “engaged in a turf war over who is in charge of the domestic strategy”, according to The Sunday Times.
The Daily Mail reports that “Hancock’s responsibilities on the health committee extend to critical decisions about boosting NHS capacity before the peak of the epidemic hits, while Gove is focusing on the rest of the public sector’s preparedness”.
One source told the paper that it was “obvious that Michael is vying with Matt and itching to take over”, saying: “[Gove] sits in the Cabinet Office, which is the natural place to pull all the different strands of a crisis like this together.”
Another source said: “Both Michael and Matt seem to be listening for the first cough from Boris – and wondering which of them will step up when he is self-isolating.”
The plan to establish a chain-of-command “comes after a Tory MP repeated calls for Johnson to set out a formal procedure for what happens if the prime minister is incapacitated or killed”, according to the Daily Mirror.
Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, has been trying to have a line of succession laid out in law for almost a decade without success, says the paper.
Bone has called on the government to back his bill currently going through the Commons so it could be in place in case the prime minister falls ill with coronavirus.