As PM's health deteriorates concerns grow about stability of government
The sudden deterioration in UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s health has touched off a flurry of speculation as to who would take over the reins of government if the PM becomes incapacitated.
Johnson was rushed off to hospital last night with unconfirmed reports suggesting he is experiencing difficulty breathing and has been placed on a ventilator.
The PM was diagnosed with COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – last week.
The official story – as relayed by the PM’s spokesman – is that Johnson is in “good spirits” after spending a “comfortable” night in hospital.
The PM remains in hospital “under observation”, according to the Downing Street spokesman.
The spokesman – in tandem with several other key staff and ministers – has been at pains to stress that Johnson continues to lead the government from his bedside at St Thomas’ hospital in London.
For his part, Johnson has tweeted to reaffirm his spokesman’s assurances that he is in “good spirits” and is “keeping in touch” with his team.
But despite the reassurance, more and more serving and former officials, as well as journalists, are wondering as to who would lead the government in the event of Johnson’s incapacitation.
The former head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake, told BBC’S Radio 4’s Today programme that it may be “sensible” for the PM to “step back” if he is not well enough to perform his role.
“I think in the end if he’s not well, he will have to reflect on this because the job’s tough at the best of times and it’s doubly tough now”, Kerslake added.
The PM’s spokesman said last month that in the event of Johnson’s absence, the first secretary of state, Dominic Raab, would take charge of the government.
Raab, who is also the foreign and commonwealth secretary, is widely thought to lack the experience, authority and charisma to lead the UK during the country’s “worst crisis” since the Second World War.
However, since the post of deputy prime minister is currently vacant, it is widely believed that Raab would rise to the top by default, notwithstanding his unsuitability for the top job.
According to the BBC’s assistant political editor, Norman Smith, Johnson’s demise or absence would propel cabinet office minister, Michael Gove, and health secretary, Matt Hancock, to the centre stage of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Britain is already under tremendous strain as a result of the coronavirus crisis, and it would appear Johnson’s incapacitation may well make matters much worse by triggering significant levels of political instability in the country.