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Coronavirus: Boris Johnson orders fresh Downing Street shake-up as Keir Starmer accuses him of ‘winging it’

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer. (Image: PA)

3 min read

Boris Johnson has ordered a major shake-up of the Downing Street coronavirus response as Labour’s Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of “winging it”.

Mr Johnson will personally chair a new strategy committee dubbed ‘CS’, while Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will take charge of an operations committee known as ‘CO’ - a process that mirrors the Government’s Brexit planning set-up from last year.

But the Labour leader urged the Prime Minister to “get a grip and restore public confidence in the Government’s handling of the epidemic” after a rocky few weeks for Number 10.

The Government’s poll ratings have slipped in recent days amid a bitter row over Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings’ decision to make a 260-mile trip from Durham to London during the lockdown.

The Telegraph, which first reported the Whitehall rejig, says the move could curb the influence of Mr Cummings.

The new set-up will meanwhile replace four previous ministerial groups that were put in place at the start of the crisis to cover foreign affairs, health, public services, and the economy and business.

Number 10’s regular morning Covid-19 committee meeting is also facing the chop, while Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday that it was ending weekend press conferences to instead focus on weekday appearances for Cabinet ministers.

The moves follow the appointment of mandarin Simon Case to the newly created role of Number 10 permanent secretary.

The experienced official, formerly Theresa May’s principal private secretary, was brought back into the Government from a role with the Royal Household.

A senior Conservative told The Telegraph that the reorganisation would help "to bring some order" to the decision-making process in Number 10.

They added: "Boris has decided that Cummings is there, but he is going to take more direct control. It is coming out of frustration – you are seeing his reawakening after a tough old time with the Covid-19 attack.”

But, hitting out at the Government in an interview with The Guardian, Sir Keir said the decision to ease a wave of lockdown measures at the start of this week risked “an exit without a strategy”.

“I am putting the prime minister on notice that he has got to get a grip and restore public confidence in the government’s handling of the epidemic,” he said. 

“If we see a sharp rise in the R rate, the infection rate, or a swathe of local lockdowns, responsibility for that falls squarely at the door of Number 10. 

“We all know the public have made huge sacrifices. This mismanagement of the last few weeks is the responsibility of the Government.”

And the Labour leader added: “My [worry] is that after a week or more of mismanagement, I’m deeply concerned the Government has made a difficult situation ten times worse... 

“There is a growing concern the government is now winging it.

“At precisely the time when there should have been maximum trust in the government, confidence has collapsed.”

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