Minister Defends Boris Johnson Missing Emergency Heatwave Meetings To Host A Party
The Prime Minister hosted a party at his grace and favour Chequers estate over the weekend (Alamy)
Kit Malthouse, the newly appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has defended Boris Johnson's decision to skip an emergency meeting addressing dangerously hot weather to host a party at his country retreat.
Malthouse, who chaired the Cobra meeting on Saturday, said it was his job to chair the meetings, not the Prime Minister’s, as Johnson faced accusations from Labour that he had “clearly clocked off” ahead of leaving office in September.
This weekend Johnson was at his grace and favour Chequers estate in Buckinghamshire, where he hosted a party attended by a number of Cabinet ministers on Sunday.
The UK faces record temperatures of up to 40C this week, with the Met Office issuing an unprecedented red weather warning for extreme heat.
People are being urged to stay indoors on Monday and not travel unless essential, with disruption expected to the travel network.
Several Cobra meetings have been arranged this week to co-ordinate the government’s response to the heatwave, but Malthouse said there was nothing wrong with the PM’s lack of attendance.
"It's my job to chair Cobra meetings. I briefed him yesterday morning at about 8am personally,” he told Sky News.
The minister says his department, the Cabinet Office, contains the civil contingencies secretariat, which is responsible for co-ordinating the response across government, which is why he has been leading the meetings.
Malthouse said he didn’t know the Prime Minister’s “exact whereabouts” yesterday, before being shown aerial footage of Johnson with his guests at Chequers by the broadcaster.
But he said it was "completely unfair" to suggest Johnson was not paying attention to the heatwave now that his premiership is coming to an end, with a new Tory leader set to be announced on 5 September.
Malthouse said he communicated with the PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday about the situation.
“He’s right across this, so it’s a very unfair characterisation,” he added.
But Labour’s Lisa Nandy told Sky News that Johnson “has clearly clocked off”, as it was reported he will not chair today's Cobra meeting on the heatwave either, as he instead makes a planned appearance at the Farnborough air show.
There has also been criticism of the government’s record on planning for extreme heat, after Malthouse claimed they had delivered on climate adaptation.
The Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the minister was “simply wrong", quoting a report from the Climate Change Committee which said “adaptation has failed to keep pace with worsening reality of climate risk”, adding that just five of 34 sectors showed progress in past two years.
Malthouse defended the Government's response, saying the Cobra meetings "make sure we are prepared and we are then able to communicate a sensible public safety message".
He told LBC that France had a heatwave in 2003 and "thousands of elderly people did die”, so the UK could "learn from that, we are not used to this kind of heat and we just need to make sure that we are sensible and moderate and take care during the next 48 hours”.
The minister urged people to "look out for those groups who are most vulnerable to the heat" such as small children and the elderly, adding ”people should do the neighbourly thing" and check on those living nearby to "check they are OK, they've got access to water, they are keeping themselves cool and looking after themselves".
"Hopefully we'll get through things in good shape," he said.
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