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Michael Gove hits back at 'grotesque' reports Boris Johnson missed crucial coronavirus meetings

Michael Gove has defended the Prime Minister's handling of the pandemic (Sky News)

3 min read

Michael Gove has branded reports Boris Johnson missed a series of crucial early coronavirus meetings "grotesque".

The Cabinet Office minister defended the Prime Minister after the Sunday Times claimed he had skipped five meetings of the Cobra emergency committee about Covid-19, and sent Health Secretary Matt Hancock in his place.

The report came amid growing concern over the government's handling of the pandemic, with one unnamed Downing Street aide telling the paper: "There's no way you're at war if your PM isn't there.

"And what you learn about Boris was he didn't chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn't work weekends.

“There was a real sense that he didn't do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be."

But speaking to Sky's Sophy Ridge, Mr Gove said the reports had been "off beam" as he claimed Mr Johnson had taken all the "major decisions".

"The idea that the Prime Minister skipped meetings that were vital to our response to the coronavirus, I think is grotesque," he said.

"The truth is there are meetings across government, some which are chaired by the Health Secretary, some which are chaired by other ministers.

"But the Prime Minister took all the major decisions. And I think anyone who considered what happened to the Prime Minister just a little while ago, nobody can say the Prime Minister was not throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus."

Meanwhile, pressed on comments he made during his party's leadership contest that Mr Johnson "cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead", Mr Gove said he had been "totally wrong".

"I mentioned earlier that the Sunday Times story had one or two off beam elements to it. This is the one that is wildest off beam," he said.

"His leadership has been clear. It has been inspirational at times. I think that actually nothing is more off beam than the suggestions the Prime Minister was anything other that energetic, determined and strong in his leadership against this virus."

But also appearing on the programme, Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said Mr Gove's response was "possibly the weakest rebuttal of a detailed expose in British political history".

"None of us expect the impossible, we understand that mistakes will be made in a crisis of this nature," he said.

"But 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 serious mistakes have been made. We know that our frontline NHS staff don't have the PPE. They've been told this weekend they won't necessarily have the gowns which will keep them safe. "

He added: "We know our testing capacity is not at the level that is needed. We know that the ventilators that many hospitals have recieved 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 PM missed five meetings at the start of this outbreak.

"It suggests that early on he was missing in action. So we do need to understand what was going on.

"People deserve an explanation and it is disappointing, I'm afraid, that Michael Gove was not able to give a full explanation."

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