Number 10 changes story after saying journalists would be excluded from daily Covid-19 briefing

A Number Ten spokesperson said this morning that Boris Johnson would avoid questions from journalists today after announcing changes to the Government’s coronavirus strategy.

Instead, they said, he would only take questions from the public.

However two hours later, shortly after 1pm, Press Gazette was told by the Number Ten press office that they had given us incorrect information earlier on and that tonight’s Covid-19 briefing will have a mixture of questions from journalists and the public. The briefing will be held at the later than normal time of 7pm.

For almost two months a daily press briefing with questions from journalists has been held at Downing Street at 5pm every day, led by Johnson or a cabinet minister alongside two senior advisers.

Today, after Johnson’s pre-recorded lockdown announcement last night which left many “divided and confused” according to today’s Guardian and Daily Mirror front pages, he called for questions on Twitter this morning, saying: “Do you want to ask me a question at today’s Downing Street Q&A? If so, you can submit yours here.”

No 10 added questions from the public to the press briefings on 27 April, but said they would not be seen in advance by the ministers and would instead be reviewed by an independent polling organisation.

Today would have been the first day since the press briefings began that journalists would not have been able to ask questions.

The Q&A will come after Johnson presents a fuller version of his lockdown exit strategy to the House of Commons this afternoon.

In last night’s announcement, the PM encouraged those who can’t work from home to go back to work and got rid of a limit on daily exercise outdoors.

He also laid out a “conditional” timeline for the phased reopening of schools from June and the hospitality sector in July.

Responding to the initial news that journalists would be excluded, the Guardian’s coronavirus live blog said: “Of course there is nothing wrong with politicians doing Q&As with members of the public. Sometimes they pose harder or more interesting questions than journalists.

“But normally they don’t, and if you believe that it’s beneficial having a media that holds politicians to account, you might be concerned about Johnson avoiding the press on the day of such a major government announcement.”

Politico’s Jack Blanchard noted in today’s London Playbook email that the PM has “refused to give a press conference or a media interview for the past 11 days, and has managed just one presser since March 25, having been off sick for much of April”.

Picture: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

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