Claims that Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock acted unlawfully by appointing their “chums” to three top jobs in the fight against Covid-19 – without opening the processes to competition – are to be the subject of an official legal challenge in the high court.
Campaigners won an initial victory in the case last Thursday, when Mr Justice Swift granted their applications for a judicial review. In court, they will argue that the prime minister and the health secretary broke the rules and acted in a discriminatory way, running a “chumocracy” at the top of government.
The case, brought jointly by the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading race equality thinktank, and the Good Law Project, concerns three crucial appointments made at the height of the Covid-19 crisis. These were Dido Harding
, the Tory peer, as the head of NHS Test and Trace, Kate Bingham
as the head of the UK’s vaccine task force, and Mike Coupe
as director of testing at NHS Test and Trace.
While the government is likely to say it made the appointments in great haste at time of national emergency, the claimants will counter that all three were installed at least partly because of their Tory connections, and not solely on merit.
Harding and Bingham are both married to Conservative MPs while Coupe is a former chief executive of Sainsbury’s, and was a colleague of Harding’s at the supermarket chain.
At the heart of the claimants’ case is the charge that the posts were not advertised in the way they normally are in the public sector
, so those with wide experience in the field were not able to put themselves forward.
They also point out that because all are unpaid positions, the government was guilty of indirectly discriminating against others outside the well-off, predominantly white group from which the three were chosen.