Former UK Health Minister: “People Are Being Misled”

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson recovers from COVID-19, his absence from Downing Street coincides with a harsh attack on his initial response to the virus. A bombshell investigation by the London Sunday Times reveals that Mr. Johnson missed the first five emergency cabinet meetings when the disease was first beginning to spread. The country’s former Health Minister joins the program to discuss.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Anna Soubry, can I just ask you because there were a lot of different accusations, there was the business of the prime minister missing the five Cobra meetings, those are the — for new viewers, those are the emergency meetings in any regard, in any crisis facing this country that a prime minister and senior ministers take part in. Downing Street has said that, well, that`s neither here nor there because many of them are chaired by other senior ministers. What do you — you know, knowing the way this all works, is missing the meetings a big problem?

ANNA SOUBRY, FORMER U.K. HEALTH MINISTER: You see, that is not my understanding. Remember, I attended cabinet and I served in three government departments of what Cobra is about. Cobra doesn`t just sit randomly when there`s a bit of a problem. My understanding has always been Cobra is saved for those genuine, serious emergencies because it`s not a — forgive me, it is not a special cabinet meeting. What it does is it brings together all the people that should be round the table or on video links if they`re not physically round the table. You need to be there in times of emergency. So, for example, we had some very, very bad flooding in parts of the United Kingdom back in 20 — at the end of 2015, and those — and Cobra came together. It was seen to mark the need for urgent action in this emergency. And the initial meetings were chaired by David Cameron. Then as the emergency began to be tackled, other ministers of a senior rank stepped up and chaired them and minions and juniors like me were allowed to come into them if you like. But now, in all seriousness, I think this is a — I think people are being misled. If Cobra was meeting, for goodness sakes, given what we knew was happening with this new disease, we knew what was happening in countries like Italy, you know, it`s not that far away, I think it is a damning indictment on Boris Johnson. And I think I so at the time. He should have been fronting up those Cobra meetings. That`s his job as prime minister. And I think it is a mark of his arrogance, that feeling of self- entitlement, that somehow it wasn`t going to affect our country and indeed him. And I`m afraid to say, I think it marks a laziness with him which is deeply unattractive. Now, he`s had this awful disease and damn nearly died from it, it seems. Then, let`s hope he changes his attitude. And when he is better, he will come back with a better attitude and a determination to work damn hard to get on top of this.

About This Episode EXPAND

Amid organized anti-lockdown protests in the United States, Christiane speaks with Senator Chris Murphy. The UK’s former Health Minister discusses Boris Johnson’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. John B. King, former U.S. Secretary of Education, joins Hari to discuss the downfalls of distance learning. Dr. Sharon Moalem explains why men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women.