London Mayor Sadiq Khan said “lives could have been saved” if he had been allowed to attend early coronavirus Cobra meetings, claiming Downing Street kept him “in the dark”.
Speaking at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Monday, Mr Khan accused the government of ignoring his repeated requests to attend the emergency meetings in March 2020.
He said it left him feeling a “lack of power” and “lack of influence” as the virus was rapidly taking hold.
The London Mayor’s evidence kicks off another highly anticipated week at the Inquiry, with former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and ex-Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab among those on the timetable over the coming days.
Mr Khan will be joined later on Monday by regional mayors and fellow Labour politicians, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham.
The regional mayors will likely be questioned about engagements with the government during the crisis, as lockdowns and restrictions were imposed across the country.
Answering questions about the early days of the pandemic, Mr Khan said he wasn’t allowed to attend early Cobra meetings because No. 10 said other mayors would have to be present.
“I was told that something in London was different because I was told the pandemic was having an impact on London ahead of the rest of the country,” Mr Khan told the Inquiry. “The government was aware of the challenges in ICU, the challenges in our hospitals, and the government was aware of community transmission in London.”
Later describing being confused about why he could not attend Cobra meetings, Mr Khan said: “In this particular case, I can see no explanation at all why… the Greater London Authority, the Mayor of London were not around the table. “I think lives could have been saved if we were there earlier.”
Mr Khan was invited to a Cobra meeting on March 16, 2020, after previous requests to attend had been denied, where he was told details of the situation in London that he described as “really serious”. He said: “I had been kept in the dark as the elected Mayor of London and I felt almost winded in relation to what was happening in London and also realising there were things we could have done in relation to some of these issues.” “I was alarmed by what I was being told in relation to where we were and where we may go to,” he added. “I will never forget that sort of feeling of lack of power, lack of influence, not knowing what was happening in our city.”
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and former Health Secretary Sajid Javid will also appear this week, alongside former deputy chief medical officer Professor Dame Jenny Harries. Mr Hancock in particular has faced repeated criticism from a number of witnesses, who have expressed concern about his performance as health secretary.