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February 3, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 8:53am

Lobby journalists in walkout over ‘selective’ Government briefings barring some titles

By Freddy Mayhew

Political journalists have staged a walkout after Downing Street attempted to brief a select group of journalists this afternoon and excluded others.

News agency PA, the Mirror and i newspapers, and Huffpost UK, Politics Home and Independent websites were all barred entry, according to reports.

The walkout came just hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his vision for a trade deal with the European Union at a press conference in Greenwich, London, this morning.

About seven political editors were invited to an early afternoon briefing at Downing Street, but other journalists caught wind of the plan and tried to attend as well, a source told Press Gazette.

Journalists were then reportedly separated from each other by officials with Number 10 communications director Lee Cain refusing entry to those not already invited, resulting in a mass walkout by reporters.

BBC and ITV political editors Laura Kuenssberg and Robert Peston were among those invited to the briefing who walked out, it is understood.

Mirror Political editor Pippa Crerar tweeted: “I felt deeply uncomfortable being left to stand on one side of the room while colleagues’ names were read out one-by-one and they joined the group who were deemed ‘acceptable’ by No 10. Sinister and sad.”

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Number 10 sources have told some journalists the meeting was a “selected briefing for specialist senior journalists”, known as the “inner Lobby”. This is separate from the two daily Lobby briefings which all can attend.

A Number 10 source told Buzzfeed: “Full briefing happened for all. Smaller selected briefing for specialist senior journalists (incl guardian) arranged. Uninvited Journalists barged in and demanded to be part of it. It was made clear – only those invited could stay. They chose to leave.”

But a number of journalists have rubbished the idea of an “inner Lobby”.

Lobby chairman Jason Groves confirmed the walkout, telling Press Gazette it is “fair to say relations are strained” between political journalists and Johnson’s new administration.

The Downing Street press office has not issued an official comment, but said there would be further discussion of the matter at the planned afternoon Lobby briefing today.

One political journalist told Press Gazette the move was “clearly part of [the Government’s] attempt to reform the parameters of the Lobby and deal with it in their own way”.

It follows a change in the Lobby’s operations that came into effect at the start of this year, moving briefings from Parliament to 9 Downing Street without first consulting journalists.

Over the past few weeks the Lobby has raised “significant concerns” over the change of venue, not least that the Government could block journalists it doesn’t favour from attending briefings.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said “political journalists were right to act in solidarity and walk out” in what was a “very alarming incident”.

She added: “Government officials should not be attacking freedom of the press this way. As ministers are now regularly refusing to be accountable for their actions by boycotting certain programmes and journalists, this represents another very dangerous step.

“Johnson’s government must stop this paranoia and engage with all the press, not just their favourites.”

Johnson barred a Mirror journalist from his campaign battle bus during last year’s general election campaign, thought to be a result of the paper’s left-leaning political stance.

There are 15 daily newspapers, seven Sunday newspapers, 12 news agencies and online-only news websites, three magazines, six news channels, and a number of local newspapers and foreign news outlets in the Lobby today.

Johnson is himself a former journalist.

Picture: Reuters/Hannah Mckay

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