LONDON — With Boris Johnson in intensive care with coronavirus, someone needs to look after Britain.
Famed for its unwritten and bendable constitution, the U.K. does not have in its chain of command any clear instructions or precedent for what happens if the prime minister becomes incapacitated.
Johnson, 55, handed some duties over to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab when he was moved into intensive care on Monday night. Raab was appointed second-in-command (first secretary of state) when Johnson took over the Conservative Party last year, meaning at least some leadership responsibilities fall to him.
“The prime minister asked me as first secretary to deputize for him, where necessary, in driving forward the government’s plans to defeat coronavirus,” 46-year-old Raab told the BBC on Monday night.
He has taken over the chairmanship of the daily COVID-19 meeting, which coordinates the government response to the crisis, and will also oversee the four cabinet committees dealing with the pandemic, focused on the health service, the economic response, the international response and the management of Whitehall respectively.
He will continue working from the Foreign Office rather than moving to No.10, and will not have power to hire and fire ministers or officials, Downing Street said Tuesday.
Raab will chair National Security Councils if needed and the Cabinet will be able to launch military action if required. But he will not have to re-write the so-called “letters of last resort,” which spell out what to do if the U.K. is subject to a nuclear attack. The existing letters written by Johnson will continue to stand.
He will also not get to take over the regular meetings the prime minister has with the queen on a Wednesday evening.