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6 April 2020

Boris Johnson is still in charge even in hospital – but Dominic Raab stands ready

The Prime Minister’s designated stand-in has avoided the feuds that have recently absorbed other cabinet ministers.   

By Stephen Bush

Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital as a “precautionary step” on the advice of his doctors, Downing Street announced on 5 April.

One of the sensible pre-crisis steps that the government took when Johnson formed his government was to explicitly name Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, as First Secretary of State: making him in effect deputy and designated stand-in should the Prime Minister become too ill to do his duties. 

That matters, because under the terms of the cabinet manual – the closest thing the United Kingdom has to a constitution – there is no clear successor and, in the event that a PM becomes unable to serve temporarily or permanently, it falls to the cabinet as a whole to lead and govern. That the First Secretary of State is there and in place means any row about who is in charge will be avoided should Raab need to step up. 

Cabinet ministers have begun to fall out in recent days, as the financial cost to the Treasury of tackling the crisis and the pressures on the NHS and wider society become more acute, and a blame game begins in government about the failure to introduce widespread testing. That Raab, as Foreign Secretary, has not been involved in these disputes means that he is best-placed at the cabinet table to step up in these challenging circumstances. But he, and everyone, will hope that his services are not even temporarily required – and that the Prime Minister makes a full and swift recovery.

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