Britain’s national security council – a meeting of senior ministers with military and spy chiefs – has not met since late January and there are no plans for it to come together this week, prompting growing concern in some quarters of Whitehall.
The high-level body used to meet weekly under David Cameron and Theresa May but has only done so sporadically since the election, and some fear it is being made deliberately redundant during the coronavirus crisis.
A meeting was cancelled last week and multiple sources confirmed there were no immediate plans to rearrange, despite tensions with China over the origins of Covid-19 and a recent return by the RAF to bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq.
Key decisions across government are being made by the all-male “Covid quad”, a morning meeting involving four leading ministers plus the prime minister, a tight decision-making model preferred by Boris Johnson’s chief aide, Dominic Cummings.
The four are Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary; Rishi Sunak, the chancellor; Matt Hancock, the health secretary; and Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who acts as a cross-Whitehall fixer.
Some fear classified material is being discussed at the meetings where advisers without a high level of clearance are present, although a No10 source said that was not the case. Decisions involving intelligence were taken as needed elsewhere, they added.
The decision not to hold NSC meeting was “a pragmatic response” to the coronavirus crisis, the source said, which involved an urgent shakeup of Whitehall machinery, and that the body remained important.
But Labour warned security threats such as terrorism and cyber-attacks had not gone away. Conor McGinn, the shadow security minister, said: “At a time when the UK is facing threats to its national security every day, it is deeply worrying that the NSC hasn’t met for months.
“The prime minister should urgently convene the NSC and ensure it meets weekly, as it has done for the past decade.”
Ministers who would normally be closely involved in national security discussions but appear to be excluded from the decision-making are Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, and Priti Patel, the home secretary.
Wallace unexpectedly let slip at a defence select committee meeting last month that the NSC had not met during the coronavirus crisis. Its last full meeting involving ministers and service chiefs was at the end of January, to sign off the decision to allow Huawei a limited role in the UK’s 5G network.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “We do not routinely comment on matters regarding the national security council. The government continues to protect the UK’s national security while addressing the pressing demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.”