Government ministers were “empty-chaired” on the morning broadcast news round on Wednesday after the scandal about Christmas parties allegedly being held at Downing Street last year despite Covid-19 rules grew.
ITV News published leaked footage of Downing Street’s former spokesperson Allegra Stratton – who is the broadcaster’s own former national editor – joking about the party in rehearsals for the planned on-camera press briefings that were later scrapped.
Introducing the footage last night, ITV News at Ten host Tom Bradby said: “They literally look as if they are laughing at us. You, me, all of us.”
Downing Street is continuing to deny parties were held in breach of restrictions last year, as it has done since the Daily Mirror broke the story last week.
Exclusive: Senior Downing Street staff joked about holding a Christmas party in Number 10 just four days after event is alleged to have taken place last December
— ITV News Politics (@ITVNewsPolitics) December 7, 2021
Health Secretary Sajid Javid was reportedly due to speak to a number of broadcasters about the anniversary of the UK covid vaccination programme before the footage leaked last night but pulled out.
Asked later as he walked into Downing Street, Javid was asked by the waiting press pack: “Why have you dropped out of your media round this morning, sir?”
BBC Radio 4 Today, ITV’s Good Morning Britain and Kay Burley on Sky News were among those to make a point of noting that no Government minister had agreed to appear on their programme.
BBC Breakfast (pictured) left an empty chair for a Government minister. Host John Kay told viewers: “Usually at this time, here on Breakfast, we would be able to put questions to a government minister at Westminster as part of a slot.
“We’ve had it pretty much every morning, haven’t we? At 7.30am since the start of the pandemic.”
Co-host Sally Nugent continued: “However, this morning, no one has been made available to speak to us.”
Burley told her viewers: “Normally we’d ask a Government minister about this. We were told originally that it was going to be the Health Secretary Sajid Javid because of course it’s the first anniversary of the first vaccine being administered. But now we’ve been told that sadly no-one’s actually accepted our invitation. We’ve not even had a proper RSVP. Never mind.”
Today presenter Nick Robinson said: “We were expecting to speak to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning but we were told just a few minutes after that video emerged that no minister would be available to speak on the programme today.”
Times Radio breakfast presenter Stig Abell wrote on Twitter: “We were going to be talking to Sajid Javid on Times Radio about the booster campaign and the need to galvanise the country to fight Omicron. He is not coming on now presumably because he is not willing to defend the indefensible.”
Politico’s London Playbook noted that the situation was “obviously extremely unusual”.
New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush wrote: “More important than any political fallout is that government ministers can’t now go an air to encourage booster uptake and to communicate important public health messages for fear of being asked about the video…”
As well as Javid pulling out of national interviews, vaccines minister Maggie Throup is understood to have pulled out of a planned round of regional television interviews according to PA.
The issue also hit the front pages across the political spectrum from the Daily Mail to The Guardian – with the notable exception of The Sun which led on the fallout from Storm Arwen. The Telegraph updated its front page splash for its second edition.
The Daily Mail headline described it as a “sick joke” with three photos of Stratton laughing while the Metro called them the “No 10 party clowns”.