How Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and Chris Whitty convinced Boris Johnson to close schools


How Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and Chris Whitty convinced Boris to close schools: ‘Bullish’ PM was ‘the last man standing’ until caving to pressure amid third national lockdown

  • The Prime Minister faced a stark situation in a ‘dashboard’ meeting on Monday 
  • Boris Johnson went on to describe the data as a ‘bit unclear’ during an interview 
  • But the PM was less bullish when he returned to Downing Street, where Chris Whitty said he and other CMOs thought the threat meter should be raised 
  • No10 insider said the PM was ‘the last man standing when it came to schools’

Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and Chris Whitty convinced Boris Johnson to lock down the country for a third time, reports say. 

The Prime Minister faced a stark situation in a ‘dashboard’ meeting at 9am on Monday, with infection and hospitalisation figures painting a bleak picture of the country’s situation. 

Mr Johnson went on to describe the data as a ‘bit unclear’ during an interview at north London’s Chase Farm Hospital, insisting that reopening schools was the right thing to do. 

But the PM was less bullish when he returned to Downing Street, where England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said he and other CMOs in the four nations thought the threat meter should be raised to the highest possible level, The Times reports. 

A Downing Street insider said Mr Johnson was ‘the last man standing when it came to schools’.

The source added: ‘Gove was absolutely crystal clear. He said, ”Schools need to close — there’s no question about that.” ‘ 

Health Secretary Mr Hancock agreed with Mr Gove, reports say. 

The Prime Minister faced a stark situation in a ‘dashboard’ meeting at 9am on Monday, with infection and hospitalisation figures painting a bleak picture of the country’s situation

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was said to have not been in the room when Mr Johnson gave in.

The inability to criticise the Johnson administration means Mr Williamson has been lined up as a scapegoat, it has been claimed. 

A source said: 'Gove was absolutely crystal clear. He said, ''Schools need to close — there's no question about that'' '

A source said: ‘Gove was absolutely crystal clear. He said, ”Schools need to close — there’s no question about that” ‘

Mr Hancock is reported to have said ‘What have they been doing for the last six months?’ during a meeting where the provision of laptops to pupils was being discussed. 

A No10 source said: ‘It’s fair to say that there is pretty widespread irritation at the department for education in this building.’  

Earlier this week Boris Johnson failed to guarantee that all pupils in England will be back in school classrooms before the summer holidays.

The Prime Minister said he is ‘optimistic’ that ‘things really will be very different by the spring’, but was unable to give parents, pupils and teachers a firm assurance that face-to-face teaching will be able to resume during the current academic year. 

The closure of schools is due to last until the middle of February at the earliest when the lockdown is due to be reviewed.

Britain's Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (L) and Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock (R)

Britain’s Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty (L) and Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock (R)

Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on January 7

Boris Johnson attends a virtual press conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on January 7

The massive disruption to learning has forced ministers to tear up plans for A-level and GCSE exams to go ahead broadly as normal in May and June.

Other high-up figures in the Johnson regime are also reportedly facing the firing line. 

The role of Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed minister for vaccine deployment after much of the planning was done, has been dismissed by some as a redundant position to assuage backbench calls for a ‘minister for vaccines’. 

One person involved in the rollout said: ‘I don’t think the success of the vaccine programme will depend on Nadhim Zahawi.’ 

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