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Boris Johnson accused of ‘clocking off’ as he misses emergency meeting on heatwave

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Labour have accused Boris Johnson of “clocking off”, after it was confirmed he will miss a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee today to discuss the current heatwave.

It came after Mr Johnson missed his third meeting on the UK’s first red extreme heat warning on Saturday, while attending a farewell party for close allies at Chequers.

Instead, the prime minister was paying a visit to the Farnborough Air Show in Hampshire – just days after finding time to fly in a Typhoon jet with the RAF. Later in the day, Mr Johnson was due to defend his record in office from the despatch box as the Commons debates a confidence motion in the government.

Downing Street said that today’s Cobra will be led by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Kit Malthouse, and insisted the prime minister was being constantly updated on the situation.

The PM’s official spokesperson also confirmed that Mr Johnson will attend his final session of prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

It followed speculation that he might duck the clash with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in order to travel to a memorial service for assassinated Japanese ex-PM Shinzo Abe.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson insisted it was “not unusual” for cabinet ministers, rather than the prime minister, to chair meetings of Cobra, which bring together top politicians, officials and outside experts to respond to emergencies.

But shadow cabinet minister Lisa Nandy said the PM had “clearly clocked off”, adding: “And so have many of his ministers in his government.”

The shadow levelling up secretary told Sky News: “We think the government ought to do a number of things: first is to turn up to work.”

Ms Nandy called for a dedicated Cabinet Office minister to co-ordinate an emergency response to the soaring temperatures – predicted to top 40C over the coming days – and urged Whitehall to work with local areas to ensure resilience plans are in place to end the current “patchwork” approach.

Starmer said: “I think for millions of people, particularly with the heatwave today, they’ll be saying ‘I want a government that’s focused on the day job, that’s getting on with resilience for today and tomorrow, however long this heatwave goes on, and focused on the cost-of-living crisis’.”

Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson confirmed that Mr Malthouse will chair the Cobra meeting in Whitehall at 2.30pm. A Cabinet Office minister will also respond in the Commons to an urgent statement from Green MP Caroline Lucas on the government’s response to the soaring temperatures.

The spokesperson said: “Kit Malthouse has made the point that he is taking the lead on the government’s response to the heatwave. He’s keeping the prime minister fully briefed, including over the weekend when the prime minister also spoke to a number of secretaries of state about the work they are doing.

“It is not unusual in cabinet government for cabinet ministers to chair these sorts of things.”

The PM notoriously missed a series of Cobra gatherings at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, staying at grace-and-favour residence Chevening to finalise details of his divorce and work on a book on Shakespeare.

Asked what justification there was for the PM’s Typhoon flight from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire last week, the spokesperson said: “The Typhoon’s quick alert reaction role is an integral part of both UK and Nato security and the PM does have a specific role in directing RAF action in worst-case scenarios. So it is important he is aware of some of these capabilities they have.”

Asked if he needs first-hand experience to understand this, the spokesman said: “It’s important that he has a detailed understanding of the working capabilities of the RAF.”

Mr Johnson today compared taking the controls of the fighter jet to his experience as prime minister over the past three years, telling business leaders at Farnborough: “I hauled the joystick right the way back and we did a loop the loop… After three happy years in the cockpit, performing some pretty difficult if not astonishing feats, I am about to hand the controls over seamlessly to someone else.”

Downing Street said a “range of measures” was in place to cope with the impact of the heat.

The PM’s official spokesman said: “In the NHS, for example, we are increasing ambulance control room staff and on NHS 111.

“There are specialist teams from Network Rail and Transport for London monitoring the impact of higher temperatures so they can keep services running.”

The Department for Transport is in touch with port operators, highways agencies and the police to “check their contingency plans”.

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