James Forsyth

Raab stands in for Boris – but he can’t take the biggest decision of all

Raab stands in for Boris – but he can't take the biggest decision of all
Picture by Pippa Fowles/No. 10 Downing Street
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Dominic Raab is a lawyer, not a doctor, by temperament as well as training. He is not a politician who talks about his feelings much. This made it all the more striking to hear him talking about Boris Johnson as a ‘friend’, and his hopes for his recovery. The reassuring news is that Boris Johnson’s condition is stable and he hasn’t required a ventilator.

Understandably, Raab faced a barrage of questions about how him deputising for Boris Johnson will actually work. Raab emphasised Cabinet collective responsibility and how they were implementing the plans that Boris Johnson had already set out. 

But on the biggest policy question — how and when to ease the lockdown — there isn’t yet a settled government policy. How to ease off the lockdown is going to be one of the biggest calls that any PM could make. There are so many trade-offs involved that it is, inevitably, going to be a judgement call and one that could well end up defining this government. For this reason, I find it hard to believe that it is not going to have to wait for Boris Johnson’s return to work. 

One particularly striking moment of the press conference was when Whitty and Vallance responded to Robert Peston’s question about why the German curve is, so far, less steep than that of European countries. Whitty said that there are lessons to be learned from what Germany had done on testing and how that had helped it get on top of the outbreak, which is going to add to the pressure on the government to hit its target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month. Just as interesting as Whitty's comments was what Vallance said about how the structure of Germany’s healthcare system might have given it advantages in dealing with the virus. The inquiry into the UK’s handling of coronavirus should look at both of these questions.