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Coronavirus: Minister rejects claims Dominic Raab is ‘reluctant’ to sign off lockdown exit strategy while Boris Johnson recuperates

Starmer raises concerns that government is in limbo while PM recovers at Chequers 

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Friday 17 April 2020 16:59 BST
Grant Shapps rejects claims that Dominic Raab is 'reluctant' to sign off lockdown exit strategy

A senior minister has hit back at claims that Dominic Raab is “reluctant” to sign off an exit strategy to the lockdown while Boris Johnson is recuperating from coronavirus.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said it was “completely untrue” that the foreign secretary was dragging his feet on taking critical decisions over lifting restrictions while he deputises for the prime minister.

He was responding to comments from Sir Keir Starmer, who expressed concern that the government was in limbo while the prime minister recovers at Chequers from his stay in intensive care.

The Labour leader is pressing ministers to publish their blueprint for lifting the lockdown, which is to be extended until at least May after the government’s scientific advisers said it was too early to ease restrictions.

Sir Keir told the BBC: “I think that throughout this they’ve [the government] struggled with taking decisions quickly enough.”

He added: “The other factor though, I think, is we all know that the prime minister has been in hospital.”

“We’ve all been pleased to see that he’s come out and is feeling better. And it feels as though they’ve been in a position probably for a week or 10 days now where it’s been difficult for the government to make big decisions. And I think there’s a bit of that lying behind this as well.”

“I suspect, although I don’t know, that Dominic Raab is just reluctant – he probably does know that it’s time for an exit strategy – but he’s probably reluctant to sign it off without the prime minister and I think there’s a bit of that in the mix.”

On Thursday, Mr Raab announced that the lockdown would be extended for at least another three weeks, with another review expected in early May.

He warned that any change in social-distancing measures would “risk damage to both public health and our economy” at this stage in the outbreak.

But the government has refused to set out details of how the UK could emerge from the lockdown amid fears it could risk diluting the message that the public needs to remain at home.

Asked about Sir Keir’s criticisms, Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That’s completely untrue and I was surprised to see that being said, for the simple reason that yesterday alone I attended cabinet, I attended the Cobra [meeting]... I attended two or perhaps even three of the cabinet sub-committees that are making all of the day-to-day decisions.

“It’s simply not the case that everything’s on standstill. There would have been no difference to those decisions because we have been guided by – as I keep saying – the scientists and the medical advice, whether or not the prime minister had been in the room or not in the room on this instance.

“This is a disease that doesn’t look to politicians to decide how to respond, it responds to science.”

Mr Johnson has not returned to work since he was discharged from hospital last week, following advice from his doctors.

He is recuperating at Chequers, his Buckinghamshire retreat, with his fiancee Carrie Symonds.

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