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Friday, June 05, 2020

Explained: How the UK government works with Boris Johnson in intensive care

Dominic Raab, the 46-year-old foreign secretary, also has the title of “first secretary of state,” making him Johnson’s deputy. He’s a blunt former lawyer who has been both an ally and rival to Johnson.

By: Bloomberg | Updated: April 7, 2020 9:55:23 pm
Dominic Raab, the 46-year-old foreign secretary, also has the title of “first secretary of state,” making him Johnson’s deputy. He’s a blunt former lawyer who has been both an ally and rival to Johnson. PM Boris Johnson has been tested positive for novel coronavirus (Reuters)

With UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in intensive care with coronavirus, his team of colleagues have stepped up to run the British government. Here’s how it works.

Who is in charge?

Dominic Raab, the 46-year-old foreign secretary, also has the title of “first secretary of state,” making him Johnson’s deputy. He’s a blunt former lawyer who has been both an ally and rival to Johnson.

What powers does he have?

Unlike the vice president in the U.S. if the president is incapacitated, Raab doesn’t have the full powers of the prime minister. He’s minding the shop while Johnson is out of action: Raab will chair the government’s daily Covid-19 meeting and make final decisions about the response effort, but he will lean heavily on other Cabinet ministers.

“It’s an informal, honorary appointment,” said Bronwen Maddox, director of the Institute for Government think tank. “The prime minister has given him the authority to act on his behalf when necessary, but there are no formal powers under the British constitution.”

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On major national security issues, such as going to war or ordering a nuclear attack, the decision-making power lies with Raab and the Cabinet, the prime minister’s spokesman said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.

What happens if Johnson can’t carry on, or resigns?

The top job wouldn’t automatically go to Raab. With a party leadership contest unlikely during a national emergency, the Cabinet would recommend to the Queen an immediate successor, and she would appoint a new prime minister.

Whoever replaced Johnson wouldn’t be an ‘acting’ prime minister: they would have the role in full, until they chose to resign or were forced out.

What happens if Raab is incapacitated?

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is next in the order of precedence and would step into the role, 10 Downing Street said on Tuesday.

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How are decisions being taken?

Government decisions are being taken “completely by consensus” and ministers are working “in a team way,” Gove said. The Cabinet and more junior ministers are divided into units focusing on the different aspects of the virus response, such as health, the economy and public services, Gove told the BBC. The set-up has been designed to share responsibility and ensure if someone falls ill necessary work can continue, he said. Gove himself is now self-isolating, after a family member became ill, though does not have symptoms himself.

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What decisions are coming up?

The UK government will review whether to extend the nationwide lock down on Monday, and needs to decide whether to tighten, retain or remove any of the restrictions.

To save lives, Britain also needs to quickly acquire thousands more ventilators to avoid its health-care system being overrun, and rapidly expand its virus testing regime so doctors and other essential employees can return to work.

Meanwhile, with the economic and social costs of the lock down rising, ministers are under pressure to devise a strategy for lifting the restrictions over time.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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