UK to continue funding WHO saying global unity 'essential' to beat Covid-19

Downing Street distances UK from Donald Trump’s accusations against China and WHO

Downing Street has distanced the UK from Donald Trump’s targeting of China over the coronavirus outbreak, amid wider government concern that a focus on accusations that Beijing covered up the start of the pandemic could hamper international cooperation to bring it under control.

It comes after Trump prompted international condemnation by suspending US funding for the World Health Organization over what he said was a “China-centric” failure by the body to investigate reports about the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan.

While support for Trump’s actions in the UK have been limited to habitual supporters of the president such as Nigel Farage, on Wednesday both Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, and Sir John Sawyers, the former diplomat and MI6 chief, said there should be an assessment of whether China concealed information.

Asked about Trump’s decision, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “Our position is that the UK has no plans to stop funding the WHO, which has an important role to play in leading the global health response. Coronavirus is a global challenge and it’s essential that countries work together to tackle this shared threat.”

Asked if this meant No 10 was disappointed by the president’s move, the spokesman said: “I can only set out the UK’s position and that is we have no plans to stop funding the WHO.”

Speaking earlier to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Javid, who resigned as chancellor in February, said that while he did not endorse Trump’s actions over the WHO – “Now is not the time,” he said – there was a need to consider China’s role in the outbreak.

“I think one of the lessons to learn from this, when we are past the worst of the crisis, is that we are going to have to look carefully into … was China providing the right information to us, and to the WHO, and to others,” he said.

“China, for example, didn’t even admit to human-to-human transmission until some time in January, which was very late in the day. I think it’s a legitimate question to ask, what they knew, when, and how that could have made a difference.”

Also speaking to Today, Sawers, who was also the UK representative to the UN, said there was “deep anger in America at what they see as having been inflicted on us all by China”.

He said: “China is evading a good deal of responsibility for the origin of the virus, for failing to deal with it initially. At the same time we can’t find a way out of this without working with China. So it’s going to be a complex set of issues we’re going to have to work with, and the world will not be the same after the virus as it was before.”

Ministers are understood to be keeping an open mind over the Chinese government’s actions at the start of the pandemic, and Downing Street has repeatedly called for “transparency” from all countries facing the virus, a clear nod towards the fact that Beijing has been far from open about both the origin of coronavirus and its spread in the country.

However, there is a keenness to avoid any tensions that could jeopardise international cooperation over efforts to tackle the pandemic, with an emphasis on pragmatic politics for now.

A government source said: “We have one overriding focus now, which is getting a grip of the crisis and defeating the virus. Even if they hold very strong views on what might or might not have happened, the people who are calling for action have to explain: why now, and what will it achieve?”


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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