Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said it was “completely untrue” that the foreign secretary was dragging his feet on taking critical decisions over lifting restrictions while he deputises for the prime minister.
He was responding to comments from Sir Keir Starmer, who expressed concern that the government was in limbo while the prime minister recovers at Chequers from his stay in intensive care.
The Labour leader is pressing ministers to publish their blueprint for lifting the lockdown, which it to be extended until at least May after the government’s scientific advisers said it was too early to ease restrictions.
Sir Keir told the BBC’s Coronavirus podcast: “I think that throughout this they’ve [the government] struggled with taking decisions quickly enough.”
He added: “The other factor though, I think, is we all know that the prime minister has been in hospital.”
“Weve all been pleased to see that hes come out and is feeling better. And it feels as though theyve been in a position probably for a week or ten days now where its been difficult for the government to make big decisions. And I think theres a bit of that lying behind this as well.”
“I suspect, although I dont know, that Dominic Raab is just reluctant – he probably does know that its time for an exit strategy – but hes probably reluctant to sign it off without the prime minister and I think theres a bit of that in the mix.”
On Thursday, Mr Raab announced that the lockdown would be extended for at least another three weeks, with another review expected in early May.
But the government has refused to set out details of how the UK could emerge from the lockdown amid fears it could risk diluting the message that the public needs to remain at home.
Asked about Sir Keir’s criticisms, Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “That’s completely untrue and I was surprised to see that being said, for the simple reason that yesterday alone I attended cabinet, I attended the COBR… I attended two or perhaps even three of the cabinet sub-committees that are making all of the day-to-day decisions.
“It’s simply not the case that every is on standstill. There would have been no difference to those decisions because we have been guided by – as I keep saying – the scientists and the medical advice, whether or not the prime minister had been in the room or not in the room on this instance.
“This is a disease which doesn’t look to politicians how to respond, it responds to science.”
Mr Johnson has not returned to work since he was discharged from hospital last week, following advice from his doctors.
He is recuperating at Chequers, his Buckinghamshire retreat, with his fiancee Carrie Symonds.