LONDON: The UK's Indian-origin finance minister, Rishi Sunak, is next in line to deputise for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he is in hospital with coronavirus and in case UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is unable to carry on amid the pandemic, Downing Street has said.
Sunak, who has been leading the UK government's economic response during the COVID-19 lockdown as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will automatically step in as part of an established order of precedence in the UK which does not have a written Constitution.
"There is an established order of precedence. The Prime Minister has appointed the Foreign Secretary [Raab] as his First Secretary of State. In line with the order of precedence, the Chancellor [Sunak] would follow from the Foreign Secretary," Johnson's spokesperson at Downing Street told reporters in response to a question about the chain of command at the top of the British government.
Given the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the UK, where the death toll has crossed 6,000, and its impact on frontline ministers, questions around leadership have been increasingly doing the rounds.
Sunak, 39, has had to table his maiden Budget as well as a series of mini-budgets over the past few weeks to try and address the crisis faced by UK businesses as a result of the lockdown.
Johnson, 55, is said to be stable and responding to treatment after he was admitted to St.
Thomas' Hospital in London with persistent coronavirus symptoms and later moved to its intensive care unit (ICU) to be close to a ventilator.
"The Prime Minister's condition is stable and he remains in intensive care for close monitoring. He is in good spirits," a Downing Street spokesperson said earlier on Wednesday.
According to the health updates, Johnson has had to be given oxygen but has not required a ventilator to assist with his breathing.
Dominic Raab, meanwhile, has been charged with deputising for him and has been leading the daily COVID-19 emergency meetings this week as he stressed that the Cabinet is focussed on implementing the UK PM's vision on tackling the coronavirus.
"Decision making by government is made by collective Cabinet responsibilities, so that is the same as before," said Raab.
The senior minister will not be conducting the customary weekly audiences with Queen Elizabeth II, taking place by telephone in recent weeks but now suspended until Johnson is discharged from hospital.
Buckingham Palace said the 93-year-old monarch had sent a message to Johnson's pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds and his family, wishing the UK PM a speedy recovery.
"The Queen sent a message to Carrie Symonds and to the Johnson family. Her Majesty said they were in her thoughts and that she wished the Prime Minister a full and speedy recovery," the palace said.
Last September, Symonds became the first non-married partner of a sitting Prime Minister to be formally introduced to the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.