Leadership uncertainty will risk UK security while Boris Johnson is incapacitated, warns former defence minister

Rob Merrick

The UK’s security will be at risk unless the government quickly clears up confusion about who is in charge in Boris Johnson’s absence, a former Tory defence minister says.

Tobias Ellwood raised the alarm after Michael Gove refused to discuss who had the authority to press the Trident button if the country came under nuclear attack.

Asked if Dominic Raab, Mr Johnson’s de-facto deputy, had the power, Mr Gove replied: “I simply can’t talk about national security matters” – as he argued key decisions would be made “collectively”.

But Mr Ellwood, the defence minister until 2019, tweeted: “It is important to have 100 per cent clarity as to where responsibility for UK national security now lies.

“We must anticipate adversaries attempting to exploit any perceived weakness.”

Mr Ellwood – a former captain in the Royal Green Jackets – was reacting to Mr Gove’s morning interviews, in which he gave an update on the prime minister’s condition, in intensive care with coronavirus.

“The prime minister always remains the prime minister,” the cabinet office minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding that the cabinet would take crucial decisions by consensus.

Asked where power lay if the UK suffered a nuclear attack, Mr Gove said: “I simply can’t talk about national security matters. There are well developed protocols which are in place and which have been tested robustly over time.”

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