A UK Coronavirus Update – Who's In Charge?

By: Peter Finding and Rory Graham

Our excellent, learned partners across the pond have kept us posted on COVID-19 effects in the UK—including an update of WHO is running the UK with the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, out sick with COVID-19.

Stark reality in the United Kingdom

  • Infected (NB limited hospital-based testing so far): 65,077; deaths from COVID-19 so far (in reality an underestimate): 7,978
  • Mortality rate approx. 1%
  • Early signs that the number of people needing hospital treatment is leveling off
  • Complaints about lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) for front line workers (British Army logistic corps drafted in to help with distribution)
  • Unease at lack of:
    • widespread testing to see who currently has the disease and
    • antibody testing (i.e., to see who has had the disease and is therefore – probably – immune and can go back to work. This is especially important for critical workers who are self-isolating)
  • Complaints about the ease of accessing the various loans and grants announced by the UK Treasury—see below.


The UK remains in lockdown, and the indications are that this will continue for at least another three weeks, and, realistically, until June, with phased relaxations over time. The cost to the UK Treasury of the financial support provided to private sector companies and workers for that period is being estimated at around £40 billion. But: that’s just a guess as the portal to register for furloughing isn’t open yet!

The Chief Medical Officer for Scotland was forced to resign for breaking the rules (which she was supposed to be promoting!), and the manager of one of the country’s major soccer teams has been reprimanded for holding a training session with three team members. The police here are famous for not being heavy handed (usually!) but will start to get tough on those breaking the rules, including imposing fines and even arresting people. Please note that for most of the UK, both Good Friday (10 March) and Easter Monday (13 March) are public holidays, and there is worry that people will want to be out enjoying the better weather.

The various financial relief measures previously described by Peter Finding are having some effect, but there is still uncertainty about how loans can actually be accessed and complaints that the banks are profiteering: the government is reviewing and tweaking the processes. For example, many small companies (such as early stage tech companies) are run by directors (board members) who are also the employees (and often owners) of the company. The “CBIL” (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme – a fund for loans to businesses) seems to discriminate against director-employees.

From a data privacy perspective, much information needs to be shared: for example, the identities of the nearly 1.5 million people with factors that might make them particularly vulnerable are to be released to supermarkets so that they can make sure people are fed. This is testing the theory and pragmatic realities of privacy laws.


But …the Prime Minster is in Intensive Care – WHO is in charge?

[Latest is that he is out of intensive care, and is slowly recovering; best guess is that he will need some days once released to get back up to speed]

Quick reminder: the UK Parliament (legislature) and Her Majesty’s Government (HMG – the executive) are supreme, but various matters are devolved to the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each of which is answerable to its own elected parliament/assembly and is headed by a First Minister.

The Prime Minister is head of HMG and chairs the Cabinet (the most senior members of the executive, all of whom will also sit in the UK Parliament). Cabinet government continues and the UK strategy is largely in place, and consistent across the four countries.

The emergency powers to impose lockdown, amongst other things, arise under the Coronavirus Act 2020 (UK Parliament) which also gives powers to the devolved governments. As a safeguard, any lockdown has to be reviewed every three weeks (and we are just over 2 weeks into the first period).

The financial support measures are paid from the UK treasury and apply to the UK as a whole, with some minor variations, and are channelled through the devolved governments in the three smaller nations.

UK key players: (NB: the Queen is Head of State)

  • Prime Minister of the UK: Boris Johnson MP (= Member of [UK] Parliament)
  • Foreign Secretary (= US Sec of State): Dominic Raab MP (deputising for PM in chairing Cabinet and COBRA (emergency committee), but does NOT have the powers of the PM)
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance secretary): Rishi Sunak MP

Key players in the devolved governments:

  • First Minister of Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon MSP (= Member of the Scottish Parliament)
  • First Minister of Wales: Mark Drakeford AM (= Member of the [Welsh] National Assembly]
  • First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland [joint heads of government]: Arlene Foster MLA (= Member of the Legislative Assembly [of Northern Ireland]) and Michelle O’Neill MLA


  • Paper on the duties of company directors in the light of the crisis, by Peter Finding and Rory Graham, see the firm’s website
  • HMG summary of the coronavirus rules and support measures here
  • BBC News

For more information, please contact your usual US FisherBroyles contact or:


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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.