Jul 18, 2022 - World

Johnson's decision to skip emergency heat wave meetings draws blowback

 Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the Farnborough International Airshow on July 18. Photo: Frank Augstein-WPA Pool/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recently resigned from his post but is staying on until a replacement is chosen, has faced backlash for missing multiple emergency Cabinet meetings to discuss the country's dangerous heat wave.

Why it matters: The unprecedented heat wave is likely to set a new all-time national high temperature record, with the U.K. Met Office forecasting the country's first-ever occurrence of a temperature of 104°F (40°C) during the event, Axios' Andrew Freedman writes.

Driving the news: On Friday, the U.K. Met Office issued its first-ever "red" extreme heat warning, indicating the risk of "serious illness or danger to life” even for healthy individuals who are not most at risk during heat waves.

  • He has already missed two emergency cabinet meetings, known as Cobra meetings, and will miss a third on Monday, Sky News reported.
  • Johnson skipped the second Cobra meeting on Saturday when he remained at Chequers, the prime minister's country retreat, planning a thank you party for supporters on Sunday, per the Guardian.
  • Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse has chaired the Cobra meetings in Johnson's absence and will chair Monday's meeting as well, the Guardian reported.
  • Johnson spent his Monday morning attending the Farnborough International Airshow, an aerospace and defense trade show, per the Independent.

The big picture: Heat waves of this magnitude and duration pose particular health risks to vulnerable groups like the elderly, those with preexisting medical conditions and anyone without access to cooling. About 3% of homes in the U.K. have air conditioning.

  • Hundreds of people have already died in Spain and Portugal due to the soaring temperatures and the death toll is likely to climb much higher. Climate change is making this event more severe and likely to occur, scientists say.

What they're saying: Johnson's absence at the meetings has drawn swift rebukes from various quarters.

  • Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner accused Johnson on Saturday of being "missing in action," the Guardian reported.
  • "The public will have no confidence in this zombie Conservative government responding swiftly and decisively to this national emergency as this disgraced prime minister prepares to party while Britain boils,” she added.
  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan accused Johnson on Monday of "treating the British public with contempt" and called on him to immediately step down, per the Guardian.
  • "The prime minister is hosting a lavish party at Chequers and obviously going on a joyride on a Typhoon plane. That’s not what a prime minister should be doing," Khan added.
  • Shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy on Monday said Johnson and his government had "clocked off, zoned out at the moment that the country most needs a functioning government," ITV News reported.

The other side: Johnson's spokesperson on Monday confirmed Johnson would not be at the day's Cobra meeting but would not say what the prime minister would be doing instead, the Guardian reported.

  • The spokesperson added that Malthouse is "keeping the prime minister fully briefed, including over the weekend. ... It's not unusual in cabinet government for cabinet ministers to chair these sorts of things."
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