Military chief insists ‘business as usual’ as security questions mount

Britain's defence chief has insisted it is "business as usual" amid concerns over who has the authority to take major decisions in Boris Johnson's absence.

General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said he believed there is a "very clear" chain of command given the National Security Council (NSC), containing senior Cabinet ministers, is "wrapped around" the Prime Minister.

He suggested operations would continue without disruption despite Mr Johnson being admitted to intensive care after his coronavirus symptoms worsened.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said he could not comment about national security matters when asked if responsibilities connected to nuclear attack had been passed on to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the PM.

In a separate interview, he claimed "Dominic is in charge" before outlining how there are "appropriate ways" to take decisions to keep the country safe.

Defence spending
Vanguard-class submarine HMS Vigilant (Danny Lawson/PA)

Conservative Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Defence Committee, was among those seeking information as he wrote on Twitter: "It is important to have 100% clarity as to where responsibility for UK national security decisions now lies.

"We must anticipate adversaries attempting to exploit any perceived weakness."

Sir Nick said all the thoughts and prayers of the armed forces are with the PM.

40 PHOTOS
Britain's armed forces
See Gallery
Britain's armed forces
ARABIAN SEA, OMAN - OCTOBER 23: 40 Commando, Royal Marines prepare before heading from RFA Lyme Bay on a night time raid as part of exercise 'Saif Sareea 3' on October 23, 2018 in the Arabian Sea, Oman. 2018 has been a busy year for the British military as 5500 Regular British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3) - meaning Swift Sword in Arabic. The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. Running concurrently to SS3, tri-force troops joined 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective of TRJE 18 being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of UK F-35B Lightning jets during a refuelling exercise with an RAF Voyager over the skies of Charleston on the East coast of the United States of America.
ARABIAN SEA, OMAN - OCTOBER 23: Soldiers from 40 Commando, Royal Marines prepare to head out from RFA Lyme Bay on a night time raid as part of exercise 'Saif Sareea 3' on October 23, 2018 in the Arabian Sea, Oman. 2018 has been a busy year for the British military as 5500 Regular British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3) - meaning Swift Sword in Arabic. The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. Running concurrently to SS3, tri-force troops joined 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective of TRJE 18 being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LYMPSTONE, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 13: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Two Royal Navy Wildcat Maritime Attack Helicopters depart The Royal Marines Commando Training Centre after transporting Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex for a visit on September 13, 2018 in Lympstone, England. The Duke arrived at the centre in a Royal Navy Wildcat Maritime Attack Helicopter for his first visit in his role as Captain General Royal Marines. He met with new recruits undergoing training as well as the Invictus Games Racing Team. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
ARABIAN SEA, OMAN - OCTOBER 23: Personnel from 40 Commando, Royal Marines listen to instructions before heading from RFA Lyme Bay on a night time raid as part of exercise 'Saif Sareea 3' on October 23, 2018 in the Arabian Sea, Oman. 2018 has been a busy year for the British military as 5500 Regular British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3) - meaning Swift Sword in Arabic. The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. Running concurrently to SS3, tri-force troops joined 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective of TRJE 18 being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales sits in front of the Royal Liver Building after it docked in Liverpool for a week-long visit to the city.
HMS Duncan, the sixth and final Type 45 destroyer, at Alexandra docks in Cardiff, where British Royal Navy ships are moored ahead of the Nato summit in Newport, Wales.
TRONDHEIM, NORWAY - OCTOBER 27: Members of the British Army Royal Irish Battle Group prepare to board a US Army Chinook helicopter to fly to recce a number of locations during pre-exercise integration training on October 27, 2018 in Haslemoen, Norway. 2018 has been a busy year for the British military with troops joining 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. Concurrently to Trident Juncture, 5500 British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3). The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of UK F-35B Lightning jets during a refuelling exercise with an RAF Voyager over the skies of Charleston on the East coast of the United States of America.
File photo dated 20/01/16 of vanguard-class submarine HMS Vigilant (front right), one of the UK's four nuclear warhead-carrying submarines. The Whitehall spending watchdog has warned poor management of the infrastructure to build and maintain Britain�s Trident nuclear deterrent has led to years of delays and cost overruns of more than �1 billion.
Work continues on HMS Anson, the fifth Astute-class nuclear-powered fleet submarine of the Royal Navy, at BAE Systems, Burrow-in-Furness.
Members of the Royal Navy at a training facility for submarine navigation teams at HM Naval Base Clyde, also known as Faslane, ahead of a visit by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of UK F-35B Lightning jets during a refuelling exercise with an RAF Voyager over the skies of Charleston on the East coast of the United States of America.
Members of the Royal Navy respond to a simulated fire in a Vanguard-class submarine control room simulator at a training facility in HM Naval Base Clyde, also known as Faslane, ahead of a visit by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
A nuclear submarine is seen at the Royal Navy's submarine base at Faslane, Scotland, August 31, 2015. The UK government is considering nationalising the nuclear submarine business of Rolls-Royce Holdings PLC, which powers its Trident missile deterrent system, the Financial Times reported. The government may also decide to merge some or all parts of Rolls Royce's businesses with BAE Systems, the FT said. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
Weapons Engineer Woods holds the Weapons Engineer Officers Tactical Trigger, that would be used in the final stage of a nuclear missile launch, on board Vanguard-class submarine HMS Vigilant, one of the UK's four nuclear warhead-carrying submarines, at HM Naval Base Clyde, also known as Faslane, ahead of a visit by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of UK F-35B Lightning jets during a refuelling exercise with an RAF Voyager over the skies of Charleston on the East coast of the United States of America.
The Weapons Engineer Officers Tactical Trigger, that would be used in the final stage of a nuclear missile launch, on board Vanguard-class submarine HMS Vigilant, one of the UK's four nuclear warhead-carrying submarines, at HM Naval Base Clyde, also known as Faslane, ahead of a visit by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
Gdynia, Poland 19th. April 2019 HMS Westminster (F237) British Royal Navy frigate is seen . Six NATO SNMG1 (Standing NATO Maritime Group One) warships from Poland, USA, UK, Turkey, Spain and Germany arrived to Gdynia to stock up and spent Easter. (Photo by Vadim Pacajev /Sipa USA)
The ships company aboard Royal Canadian Navy vessel HMCS St. John's watch as a flotilla of boats accompany the MV Boudicca as it sets sail for Normandy from Portsmouth, during commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
HMS Forth, the first of the Royal Navy's next generation offshore patrol ships arrives for the first time at her home base in Portsmouth, Hampshire.
Members of the ship's company during the commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's biggest and most powerful warship, into the Royal Navy Fleet at Portsmouth Naval Base.
File photo dated 16-08-2017 of HMS Queen Elizabeth, the UK's newest aircraft carrier. Britain's new aircraft carriers will not carry amphibious assault craft and so the country will lose the ability to land ships on enemy-held beaches if reported cuts to the existing Royal Navy fleet go ahead, MPs have heard.
Royal Navy personnel carry out their duties aboard the Royal Fleet Auxillary Argus, docked in Falmouth, as the ships crew prepare to set sail on Friday October 17th to Sierra Leone, Africa, to assist with the Ebola epidemic.
Members of the media film as Royal Navy personnel carry out their duties aboard the Royal Fleet Auxillary Argus, docked in Falmouth, as the ships crew prepare to set sail on Friday October 17th to Sierra Leone, Africa, to assist with the Ebola epidemic.
Royal Navy personnel conduct an overall weapons test and check radar displays in the Operations Room onboard HMS Edinburgh during the ship's farewell tour of the UK heading for Leith, Edinburgh, where the Royal Navy's last Type 42 Destroyer will make her very last visit to Edinburgh before she is decomissioned.
Royal Navy Aircraft Engineers wheel out the Lynx helicopter from the hangar onto the flight deck onboard HMS Edinburgh during the ship's fairwell tour of the UK heading for Leith Edinburgh, where the Royal Navy's last Type 42 Destroyer will make her very last visit to Edinburgh before she is decommissioned.
Royal Navy Aircraft Engineers extend the rotor blades on a Lynx helicopter as it prepares for a morning flight onboard HMS Edinburgh during the ship's farewell tour of the UK heading for Leith Edinburgh, where the Royal Navy's last Type 42 Destroyer will make her very last visit to Edinburgh before she is decommissioned.
Type 45 Destroyer HMS Daring leaves Portsmouth Harbour as the Royal Navy's newest and most hi-tech warship set sail for the ships maiden deployment.
A Merlin helicopter is lifted onto the deck of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it sits in front of the Royal Liver Building after it docked in Liverpool for a week-long visit to the city. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 3, 2020. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
A Chinook is lifted onto the deck of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it sits in front of the Royal Liver Building after it docked in Liverpool for a week-long visit to the city. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 3, 2020. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Merlin helicopters take off from the deck of the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales as it sits in front of the Royal Liver Building after it docked in Liverpool for a week-long visit to the city. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 3, 2020. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales sails up the River Mersey to Liverpool for a week-long visit to the city. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday February 28, 2020. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of UK F-35B Lightning jets during a refuelling exercise with an RAF Voyager over the skies of Charleston on the East coast of the United States of America.
Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of UK F-35B Lightning jets during a refuelling exercise with an RAF Voyager over the skies of Charleston on the East coast of the United States of America.
UNSET, NORWAY - NOVEMBER 02: A British soldier from B Company of the Royal Irish Regiment sits on a bed of Cladonia lichen as he watches for any signs of an attack from the opposing force, during the live exercise on November 2, 2018 in Unset, Norway.2018 has been a busy year for the British military with troops joining 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. Concurrently to Trident Juncture, 5500 British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3). The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
BRYDALEN, NORWAY - NOVEMBER 01: British Army Foxhound armoured vehicles from B Company of the Royal Irish Regiment are seen under the night sky as the group establishes camp during the live exercise on November 1, 2018 in Brydalen, Norway. 2018 has been a busy year for the British military with troops joining 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. Concurrently to Trident Juncture, 5500 British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3). The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
TRONDHEIM, NORWAY - OCTOBER 25: A Norwegian engineer (L) chats with a member of the British Army Royal Engineers during pre-exercise integration training on October 25, 2018 in Telneset, Norway.2018 has been a busy year for the British military with troops joining 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. Concurrently to Trident Juncture, 5500 British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3). The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
TRONDHEIM, NORWAY - OCTOBER 25: Members of the British Army Royal Engineers relax as they eat their lunch during pre-exercise integration training on October 25, 2018 in Telneset, Norway. 2018 has been a busy year for the British military with troops joining 50000 military personnel from 31 countries in central and eastern Norway for the NATO-led Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18). The objective being that NATO forces are trained to operate together ready to respond to threats from any direction. Concurrently to Trident Juncture, 5500 British military personnel and Reserves from the Navy, Army and Air Force joined 60000 of their Omani counterparts train across the country in Exercise Saif Sareea (SS3). The UK has a long and established defence relationship with Oman and SS3 underpinned the UK’s commitment to international allies and the ability to conduct a strategic deployment of a war fighting force to the Middle East. HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's newest aircraft carrier, returns to her home port of Portsmouth next week in time for Christmas. During the past few months the ship has completed sea trials in the Atlantic Sea and successfully tested her capability to land the F-35 Fighter Jets on deck. By 2021 HMS Queen Elizabeth should be deployed on global operations. It can be said that the British military is operating and co-operating on a truly global stage. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
LYMPSTONE, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 13: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Royal Marines Commandos hang out of the open doors of two Royal Navy Wildcat Maritime Attack Helicopters as they arrive at The Royal Marines Commando Training Centre to transport Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex following a visit on September 13, 2018 in Lympstone, England. The Duke arrived at the centre in a Royal Navy Wildcat Maritime Attack Helicopter for his first visit in his role as Captain General Royal Marines. He met with new recruits undergoing training as well as the Invictus Games Racing Team. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Asked if there is a clear chain of command for the armed forces in such a situation, Sir Nick told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Yes, it's very clear I think.

"We work straight through to the Prime Minister but of course there's the National Security Council that's wrapped around him and formed of many of the Cabinet ministers and supported by the National Security Adviser.

"I think on that basis we're pretty confident it's business as usual as far as the operations are concerned."

Sir Nick said he believed Mr Raab would chair the NSC and be supported by others.

British oil tanker Stena Impero
Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter (Yui Mok/PA)

Asked if he still believed six months was a reasonable timescale for the armed forces involvement in the coronavirus operation, Sir Nick replied: "I think that was a reasonable assumption a month ago and I think we're all playing each day as it comes at the moment."

Pressed on what the armed forces would do if there was civil unrest in the country, Sir Nick replied: "I think it's most unlikely that we would get involved in public order at all.

"Generally speaking our role in this is to back-fill the police in those roles that don't face the public so the police force are able to manage public order on the country's behalf."

Mr Gove, asked who is in charge in terms of defences and security, told Good Morning Britain: "Dominic is in charge.

"I won't go into the details of the different national security decisions and protocols that there are but there are appropriate ways in which decisions can be taken in order to keep this country safe.

"The ultimate decisions are always taken by politicians and in this case the PM has asked Dominic to deputise for him, so it's Dominic as Foreign Secretary who's in charge."

Read Full Story Click here to comment

FROM OUR PARTNERS