Downing Street has denied claims that Boris Johnson missed key early crisis meetings on coronavirus because he was busy working on a book about Shakespeare.
The Sunday Times reported that officials are concerned that Dominic Cummings will accuse the prime minister of missing key Cobra meetings because he was working on the biography, the money from which he needed to fund his divorce from Marina Wheeler.
Johnson missed five key Cobra emergency committee meetings at the start of the pandemic last year, according to the newspaper.
But asked if the PM was working on the book in January and February 2020 when the meetings took place, his spokesperson replied: “No, the prime minister has been leading the response to this pandemic throughout.”
They added: “That has been his focus.”
The spokesperson went on: “There are a number of incidents I can run you through where Cobras have been chaired by relevant secretaries of state as we made clear last year.”
Asked whether Johnson had carried out any work on the Shakespeare book since becoming prime minister in July 2019, the spokesperson said: “Not that I am aware of.”
The Shakespeare biography had already been pushed back from its original release date of October 2016 to April 2020.
But after Johnson became PM in July 2019, publisher Hodder & Stoughton said it had “no plans” to publish the book “for the foreseeable future”.
Officials in the Cabinet Office are reportedly concerned that Cummings will accuse the PM of focusing on the book instead of the pandemic when the former No.10 adviser appears before a committee of MPs on Wednesday.
Cummings has spent the days leading up to the appearance making various allegations about failures in the government’s pandemic response.