Why Boris Johnson is walking a tightrope as he plots a route through the Covid crisis

Having spent the last few days locked in meetings with senior ministers and the Government’s top scientists, he is all too familiar with the hawk to dove ratio of the Covid sub-committees taking all the major decisions on No 10’s pandemic response. 

Mr Johnson chairs the Covid-19 strategy committee, whose members include Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, and Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary. 

Michael Gove chairs the Covid-19 operations committee, comprising Mr Sunak and Mr Hancock, with other ministers invited according to the agenda. 

According to insiders, discussions in recent days even went so far as considering closing down all non-essential retail and stopping household mixing altogether. Yet, amid outcry from the hawks, a compromise was reached. 

“In line with Matt, Michael is the most pro-lockdown and Rishi is probably the most anti,” said one source. “Priti and Alok are aligned with Rishi, and Dominic seems to be sitting on the fence.” 

As the major players on the sub-committees, it is the views of these key ministers, rather than the wider Cabinet, that count. “The rest of the Cabinet are just rubber-stampers,” added the insider.

Yet frustrations have been growing over the availability of data to sub-committee members in recent days. 

According to one source, ministers took part in a lengthy “ops” meeting on Thursday, only to be given the “doomsday” slides which featured in Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick’s Monday press conference (watch the briefing in the video below) at the last minute. 

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