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April 21, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:13am

UK Government ditches plans for greater openness with daily TV press briefings

By Dominic Ponsford

The UK government has ditched plans for greater openness with televised daily press briefings.

The move comes despite recruiting former BBC and ITV broadcaster Allegra Stratton (pictured) to front the West Wing-style briefings. She will now instead be the spokesperson for the United Nations Cop24 climate change summit in Glasgow in November.

The briefing room in No 9 Downing Street has been kitted out with cameras and rows of chairs for journalists and been refurbished at a cost of £2.6m. It is understood it will now be used for ministerial press conferences.

The room had its first use in March when the Prime Minister addressed the nation about the next stage of lockdown easing, with previous coronavirus briefings held in No 10.

Responding to the plans being scrapped, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson is clearly running scared of scrutiny and questions about Tory sleaze and dodgy lobbying.

“Instead of wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a pointless vanity project the Prime Minister should have used the money to give our NHS heroes a pay rise.”

Plans for the TV press briefings were devised by former No 10 head of communications, Lee Cain, who quit last November. Cain was succeeded by James Slack who lasted just a few months before announcing his return to journalism in March as deputy editor of The Sun. He has been succeeded by former Daily Mail associate editor for politics Jack Doyle.

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Mirror political editor and chair of the parliamentary press gallery Pippa Crerar said: “We’ve been waiting for Boris Johnson to axe White House-style briefings ever since they were announced.

“Anybody who has been at a lobby briefing could see they were a high risk strategy for Government.

“They might think they control the message, but there’s also nowhere to hide.”

Currently, accredited Lobby journalists ask questions of the Prime Minister’s spokesperson at a behind-closed-doors meeting each morning and afternoon.

Last July, when the new briefings were first proposed, Crerar and the Mail’s Jason Groves (chair of the Lobby) said: “We would not wish to see any changes used as an excuse to reduce transparency by, for example, reducing the number of daily briefings, limiting questions, those who can ask them, or our on-the-record access to ministers.”

The Society of Editors voiced concerns that the briefings would become “too stage-managed and favour the few”.

However, the PM’s official spokesperson said: “We feel that daily on-camera press briefings will help to increase Government accountability and transparent.”

Owner of the Guido Fawkes blog, Paul Staines, had campaigned for the move saying that journalists at closed briefings are “gatekeepers with their own agenda”.

He said that move would let “the public see how the sausage is made.”

A similar plan for daily televised briefings was quietly dropped by Tony  Blair’s Labour government in 2005.

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