What is COBRA, the committee convened after terrorist attacks?

What is COBRA, the committee convened after terrorist attacks?

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Theresa May cancelled her campaigning this morning and instead chaired a COBRA meeting, as Prime Ministers do at times of attack or emergency.

She will chair another one later on Tuesday after visiting Manchester.

COBRA is an acronym…sort of
It stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms, or COBR, which is where the government’s emergency crisis response meetings take place. They are located in the Cabinet Office building on Whitehall, just behind 10 Downing Street.

COBR becomes COBRA because the committee meetings often take place in Briefing Room A, although the Cabinet Office itself does not use the full acronym. It’s popular in the media because it’s more memorable than the letters COBR.

Think of it as the modern equivalent of the war room, a situation room allowing the government to respond quickly and effectively to an emergency.

Who attends the meetings?
As well as the Prime Minister, the meetings are attended by a cross-departmental range of senior ministers, security officials, military chiefs, emergency services leaders and civil servants.

The acronym refers to the briefing room rather than a particular committee within government, so there is no fixed guest list.

The attendees change according to the nature of the crisis. In the case of a terrorist attack, security elements dominate.

What does it do?
It reacts.

The point is to have the important officials in the same place, so quick, decisive action can be taken.

Cobra can invoke the powers of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which are wide-ranging and include everything from curfew to military intervention.

Is it just for terrorist attacks?
No, it’s for any emergency requiring government response. There have been COBRA meetings for everything from foot and mouth disease to proposed firefighter strikes.

Terrorist attacks are an important part of its function, however. It has met in response not only to Manchester, Westminster and, earlier, the 7/7 bombings, but in reaction to overseas attacks such as the Bataclan in Paris and 9/11.

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