By Paul Waugh
In the most serious public spat over the government response to the crisis, No.10 revealed the prime minister had demanded to know why Khan had cut the number of services running in the capital.
Just hours after Johnson ordered a near-lockdown of the UK, NHS workers and other key staff critical to the fight against Covid-19 complained on Tuesday that it was impossible to observe social distancing on crammed Tube trains.
The Tube has reduced its service frequency, with many trains running every 10 minutes rather than 3 or 4 minutes.
“The prime minister raised with the mayor the issue of reduced services on the Tube and its impact on people trying to get to work,” the PM’s official spokesman said.
“The transport secretary has also spoken to the mayor of London on this issue where they discussed looking at ways to make sure appropriate timetabling is in place to ensure it is safe for those who need to get to work because they cannot do this from home.”
But the mayor hit back that the reduced services were caused by a 30% drop in Transport for London staff who have fallen sick or have self-isolated with coronavirus.
With many Underground trains carrying construction workers at rush hour, Khan also said he was overruled by the PM and other Tory cabinet ministers when he proposed a ban on building site work during a Cobra emergency meeting on Monday.
Khan told LBC Radio that he had raised a ban on building work during the meeting but Johnson “and every one of the government ministers who spoke overruled me”.
“Construction workers, unless it’s for safety reasons, should not be going to work. I was overruled by the prime minister, who doesn’t believe that construction workers should be at home,” Khan said.
“I’ve worked on a building site, I’ve been a labourer. But also I visit building sites. The idea that construction workers can stay two metres apart during the course of a busy day, and also the idea that we can’t put on hold construction work during this public health crisis, I find astonishing.”
“I think it’s important for the government to understand the scale of the challenge we are facing….The Prime Minister has been moving slower than I would have wanted. I still don’t think last night’s message was as clear as it could be and this conversation is evidence of that.”
The mayor’s plea was backed by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, Wales first minister Mark Drakeford and northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster, HuffPost UK understands.
The PM’s spokesman insisted that the guidance for the lockdown was clear that construction would could continue as long as it followed rules set down by Public Health England and the industry’s own Construction Leadership Council.
He said that “if builders are already working on site they can continue to do so” as long as they follow the guidance.
No.10 added that construction workers were like factory workers in that many of them could not work from home and were therefore exempt from the lockdown on all but essential travel.
Sturgeon made plain earlier on Monday that her advice to Scottish construction firms was that building sites should close down.
“There are still too many people across our country who are being expected to, or expecting to, go to work as normal and this presents a serious and unnecessary risk of spreading the virus,” she said.
During a No.10 briefing, it also emerged that new powers to let the police fine the public £30 during the lockdown would be passed by parliament by Thursday at the latest.