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Brexit planning helped UK prepare for Covid pandemic, Michael Gove tells inquiry

13 Jul 2023 3 minute read
Michael Gove. Photo Lucy North/PA Wire

Michael Gove has argued that planning for a no-deal Brexit made the UK “more match fit” for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The veteran Tory, who was Cabinet Office minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when the pandemic began in 2020, said EU exit planning was “some of the best preparation” possible for a crisis.

Giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Thursday, he denied that moving staff over to Brexit work had a detrimental effect on pandemic planning.

The Civil Service grew and expanded in readiness for departing the EU, Mr Gove said when asked about staff being overworked.

“The nature, the pace and the intensity of the work undoubtedly placed pressure on individuals and the system, but it also ensured a greater degree of match fitness for what none of us anticipated but what was to come the year after,” he said.

“I would argue that the skills acquired, honed and refined during EU exit preparation helped us not only to have an organisational system that was better in dealing with the crisis, but having a cadre of people who’d been through an intense process that enhanced their ability to respond.”

He added: “The preparation for EU exit in and of itself was some of the best preparation that could have been undergone for any future crisis.”


Mr Gove, a staunch Brexiteer, chaired a Cabinet committee that marshalled preparedness for no-deal Brexit risks across government departments under Boris Johnson’s premiership.

The XO (Exit Operations) committee had to work at an “accelerated” tempo due to the EU exit deadline, he said.

“I do believe that it was helpful for all of government to be operating at that pace, because we made government more match fit overall for the terrible events that this inquiry has been set up to look at.”

The Levelling Up Secretary also said Britain was unprepared for a coronavirus pandemic because it was focused on responding to a flu pandemic instead.

“Ultimately the pandemic that occurred was not a flu pandemic. It was one for which we were unprepared because few western nations, if any western nations had anticipated the particular type of pandemic that Covid-19 was.”

He added that the Cabinet Office “did flex rapidly once it was clear what the scale of the pandemic was” in the spring of 2020.

Mr Gove is the latest Conservative figure to give evidence to the inquiry, which is in an early stage examining the country’s preparedness for a pandemic.

His appearance, which was at one point interrupted by his phone apparently playing a recording of the earlier part of the session, comes after the inquiry heard from former prime minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne.

Other witnesses, including Scotland’s former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, have told the inquiry that no-deal Brexit planning from 2018 onwards damaged the UK’s ability to also plan for a pandemic.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said resources had been diverted away from emergency planning for this reason.

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Steve Duggan
Steve Duggan
1 year ago

I can smell the BS a mile away, or in this case 150miles. How could restricted access to the EU make dealing with COVID-19 easier? Easier to decide to give PPE contacts to best buddies perhaps. I wish these people would get their heads out of the ground! The quicker we undo Brexit the better for all of us.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
1 year ago

‘Eye off the ball’ is the key phrase here. Both government at the time and Govey now are guilty of this. It has already been established in the Covid inquiry that preparing for the pandemic took a back seat to the imperative of getting Break-it done so Goveys’ limp propaganda statement to the contrary is too late. ‘Behind the curve’, ‘off the pace’, ‘stable door, horse has bolted’, ‘asleep at the wheel’. More key phrases. Take your pick.

1 year ago

So why did David Cameron admit it was a mistake to get rid of pandemic preparedness strategies as part of austerity? Throughout the 2000s and 2010s there were warnings of a potential global pandemic. Britain is an island it could have easily closed its borders when the first cases hit Europe, as Australia and New Zealand did. We didn’t have to go in lockdown or have impose restrictions on our lives except for the ability to leave the UK (unless your in Downing Street as different rules applied to them). This is nothing to do with the EU. If Mark… Read more »

1 year ago

Brexit planning ? Oxymoron, or just moronic ?. They never did much planning spending all their waking hours slinging rhetoric and insults in every direction. Why ? well its now evident that none of them could plan his /her way out of a wet paper bag. So the same goes for Covid. Having benefitted from an in depth review/assessment as recently as 2016 they just put the bloody thing on the shelf and never read it properly. Thus very few if any had a clue about how to get down to first base when the real crisis kicked off. Gove… Read more »

John Hammond
John Hammond
1 year ago

This Gove fellow must be on a shortlist of one for UK bullsh!tt3r of the year.

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