UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove Tuesday morning confirmed that while Boris Johnson is being treated in hospital, the one running the British government is Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Downing Street earlier said Boris Johnson had asked the foreign secretary to deputise for him should such a necessity arise.
Raab, a devoted Brexiteer who stepped down from Theresa May’s cabinet citing her insufficient Brexit policies just months after a similar move by Boris Johnson, has served in the latter's government since he became prime minister in July.
He holds the honorary title of "first secretary of state", with the wording itself meaning that he will assume the reins of government should the prime minister be seriously ill and could ultimately replace him.
“The big decisions are no longer made at cabinet. Instead, the action takes place at Cobra, the subcommittee – and the prime minister’s morning meeting", according to Katy Balls, Spectator magazine's deputy political editor and columnist with The Guardian.
She went on to enumerate Johnson’s closely-knit team: Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, and Rishi Sunak. All of them head special coronavirus subcommittes, tasked with directing the nation through the raging epidemic.
Across the government, no one is working on anything but the coronavirus, Ball remarks in her Guardian column citing a government aide as saying that “if someone is working on something else, they are doing something wrong".
The aforementioned politicians are all understood to be probable candidates to stand in for Johnson during his sick leave or even longer.
When The Times, citing sources, first reported that it would be Raab replacing Johnson should he become too ill, the news was received like "a cup of cold sick" by his cabinet rivals, according to Katy Balls.
Dominic Raab, Johnson’s close ally who like the prime minister himself didn’t catch on in the previous government, has of late been scrutinised for his hard-line views, namely on the equality debate.
In 2011, he spawned a storm saying "feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots" in the UK, further lamenting the “raw deal” men “are getting”.
"Men work longer hours, die earlier, but retire later than women", he explained, standing by his largely unpopular views in a later BBC interview.
Raab, who currently has an approval rating of minus 17 percent (13 percent in favour, 30 percent against), per YouGov, noted it was "really important that in the debate on equality we have a consistency and not double standards and hypocrisy".
The arguably most appraised candidate for the government reins seems for now to be Rishi Sunak. The newly appointed UK chancellor - “the minister of the hour", as Katy Balls dubs him, has received loads of praise for his performance during press conferences at Downing Street, where he announced a historically comprehensive package of support for firms and workers.
“He’s become the poster boy of good government – praised for offering an emotional intelligence at the various press conferences that has at times been lacking from the prime minister", Balls pondered.
YouGov polling proves the point, suggesting he is now even more popular than Boris Johnson. “In Rishi we trust", one staffer reportedly said.
Another viable candidate to stand in for Johnson is hypothetically Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, considered by many Conservative MPs “as a safer pair of hands than Raab because he has more cabinet experience and significantly more ministerial ability", per Business Insider.
For now, Dominic Raab, who has less than 10 years of political expertise, will “deputise where necessary”, Downing Street said as confirmed personally by Michael Gove, hours after Number 10 insisted that the prime minister was still in charge of the crisis despite his poor health.
Asked if he was confident the government remained under control tonight, Raab asserted: “There’s an incredibly strong team spirit behind the prime minister, and making sure that we get all of the plans the prime minister’s instructed us to deliver to get them implemented as soon as possible".
He stressed that government will continue to focus on making sure that “the prime minister’s direction – all the plans for making sure that we can defeat coronavirus and can pull the country through this challenge – will be taken forward".
On Monday evening, having a spent a day in a regular ward at the St. Thomas Hospital in London, Boris Johnson was transferred to an intensive care unit on the advice of his medical team. Cabinet minister Michael Gove stressed he is not on a ventilator, but admitted he had received some oxygen support.