Boris Johnson meetings: PM failed to meet with most of England’s regional leaders throughout the pandemic

Boris Johnson failed to meet with most regional leaders during the pandemic Boris Johnson failed to meet with most regional leaders during the pandemic
Boris Johnson failed to meet with most regional leaders during the pandemic | Photo: Kim Mogg/NationalWorld
One regional leader told NationalWorld they think the PM is avoiding meetings with metro mayors, as he ‘isn’t up on the detail’

Boris Johnson failed to meet with the majority of regional leaders throughout 2020 and 2021, and had as many meetings with Rupert Murdoch as with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Despite levelling up and devolution reportedly being a key aspect of the government’s agenda, Johnson had no one-on-one meetings with most of England’s metro mayors throughout the pandemic.

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Has Boris Johnson meet with England’s metro mayors?

According to a log of official meetings involving Boris Johnson compiled by the Cabinet Office, Boris Johnson has only met with four of England’s metro mayors, not including a roundtable event in May 2020 which involved ten regional leaders.

Over the same period, Mr Johnson met with representatives of the Telegraph on 12 occasions, the Daily Mail Group on 11 occasions and with Rupert Murdoch twice.

One regional leader told NationalWorld they felt the Prime Minister was avoiding meetings with metro mayors, because he doesn’t have a grasp of the detail and is concerned he will be ‘found out’.

The Prime Minister met twice with Conservative mayor for West Midlands, Andy Street, twice with Labour mayor of LondonSadiq Khan, and once each with the Conservative mayor for Tees Valley Ben Houchen and Labour mayor for West of England Dan Norris.

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A Labour source told NationalWorld that the meeting with Mr Norris only came about after Mr Johnson was “shamed into it”.

Number 10 had already declined an invitation to meet with Mr Norris, but a meeting was hastily arranged after an embarrassing interview in which the PM seemed not to know the name of the West of England mayor.

During an interview in April 2021, Mr Johnson was asked: “Do you know who the West of England mayor is?”.

At the time the incumbent was Conservative Tim Bowles, but Mr Johnson seemed unable to answer the question, saying only that he was, “very much in favour of powerful mayors in the west of England and elsewhere”.

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On 4 October, when the PM was once again asked if he knew who the West of England mayor was, following the defeat of Mr Bowles and election of Labour’s Mr Norris, he said he “couldn’t remember”.

He added: "To the best of my knowledge the Metro Mayor has not actually requested to see me."

However, the mayor’s office had written to Number 10 in July requesting a meeting regarding an “inward investment opportunity”, which was declined in a letter.

Labour sources say the incident prompted the PM to arrange a meeting, which took place just a couple of weeks later on 15 October.

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‘No surpise’ PM hasn’t met with mayors, say experts

Other than the May 2020 roundtable, Johnson has not had meetings with Labour’s Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, or Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Sheffield City region until earlier this month.

A spokesperson for Andy Burnham said: “The Mayor and Greater Manchester Leaders are always ready and willing to meet with members of the Government, and to work together to bring genuine levelling up to our people and places.

“The Mayor has regular contact with Ministers on a broad range of issues concerning our work here in Greater Manchester.

“Alongside this, officers at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority are currently engaged in talks with Government officials over plans for further devolution through a new trailblazer deal and the delivery of the Bee Network, a London-style integrated transport system for our city-region.

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“At the appropriate time the Mayor looks forward to discussing these ambitious proposals with the Prime Minister.”

A Labour source told NationalWorld that during his tenure as mayor, Mr Jarvis “experienced an appalling lack of engagement from No.10”.

The PM has also failed to meet with the mayors of North of Tyne, the Liverpool City region, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and West Yorkshire, though Tracy Brabin was only elected to represent the newly formed mayoralty in May 2021.

Labour holds eight of the 10 metropolitan mayoralties in England, while the Conservatives hold the other two, in the West Midlands and Tees Valley.

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Johnson has met with both Conservative mayors, but only two of the eight Labour mayors.

Director of IPPR North, Zoë Billingham, said:"It is unfortunately no surprise that the Prime Minister has not made the necessary time to meet with many of England’s metro mayors.

“If the Prime Minister is serious about his own flagship agenda, then he should take responsibility for broadening and deepening devolution and bringing England’s leaders to the decision making table - maturing the central-local relationship will benefit the whole country.”

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