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Sadiq Khan accuses Boris Johnson of 'riding roughshod' over councils with plans for M25 lockdown

Charles Hymas

Sadiq Khan was embroiled in a new row with Boris Johnson yesterday as he accused the Prime Minister of “riding roughshod” over democratically-elected local leaders by excluding them from lockdown discussions.

The London mayor wrote to the Prime Minister to express “great surprise” that the Government plans to use the M25 to seal off the capital if there is a spike in Covid-19 infections.

Mr Khan also pointed out that it had been 12 weeks since he was invited to a Cobra meeting on the Covid-19 pandemic.

His comments came after it was revealed at the weekend that Mr Johnson held a “war game” session with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday last week to run through possible options in the event of a second wave including the M25 plan.

Neither Mr Khan nor other London council leaders were invited to take part in the planning exercise or asked to comment on the proposals.

However, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said the idea of closing down local transport networks was part of the Contain Strategy published two weeks ago. “It's not a new thing, it's there and it's in the document,” he said.   "The Contain Strategy doesn't reference specific locations but it set out the possibility of a power to close down local transport networks.There are discussions between TfL and the Government on the future direction and those sorts of issues."

In his letter to Mr Johnson jointly signed by Peter John, chair of Londoncouncils, the London mayor said he had only learnt about Government plans for a potential lockdown in the capital from newspaper reports.  

“It is with great surprise that we read in the Sunday papers that the Government held a critical exercise last week in which a major resurgence in Covid-19 infections in London was a central scenario,” he wrote.  

“The plans included using the M25 as a quarantine ring — effectively sealing off the city. Our surprise is that such far-reaching contingency plans have been discussed and tested without the involvement or awareness of London’s government.  

“This is clearly totally unacceptable and an affront to London and Londoners.”   The letter also said the Government had been slow to take decisions or has taken the wrong decisions “time and again throughout this crisis”, adding: “This must stop.  

“Riding roughshod over democratically elected representatives who understand their communities better than central Government will lead to worse outcomes for Londoners, and the country as a whole.”  

The row came as a world health chief warned that London was at a "critical time" in fighting Covid-19, with figures showing the number of new cases edging up in two thirds - or 22 - of the boroughs.  

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation's coronavirus envoy for Europe, stressed that the risk of a surge in Covid infections in the capital was now "extremely serious" and appealed to Londoners not to "bend the rules" on social distancing and good hygiene.