Number 10 is refusing to meet with political journalists to discuss changes to Government briefings that have been met with “significant concerns” by the press, according to the chairman of the Lobby.
Lobby journalists, a cohort of accredited press based at Parliament, are briefed by the Government’s official spokesperson twice a day – once in the morning and again in the afternoon.
These briefings were previously held in the Lobby room of the House of Commons, but under Boris Johnson’s new administration they have been moved to Number 9 Downing Street as of this week.
Press “huddles”, which are ad hoc informal meetings to clear up any confusion on the Government’s position, have also moved to Downing Street, instead of the Lower Reporter’s Gallery in Parliament.
The change of venue was made without consultation, according to Lobby chairman and Telegraph chief political correspondent Christopher Hope.
The Lobby correspondents’ committee set out its concerns with the changes in a letter to Number 10 communications director Lee Cain last week and has requested an urgent meeting to discuss them.
It has called for a compromise that would keep the morning briefing at Downing Street but return the afternoon briefing, which is chaired by the Lobby chairman, to Parliament.
Of particular concern is that journalists are able to both easily report on Parliamentary proceedings, which typically take place in the afternoon, and ask questions of the Government.
Downing Street is a five-minute walk from the Houses of Parliament but requires journalists to pass through additional security gates. The Lobby committee is also concerned that the Government could turn away members of the press it doesn’t like as a result.
Number 10 has said the change of venue would allow Lobby journalists to have more briefings from advisers and expert officials.
In a further letter to Cain sent yesterday, seen by Press Gazette, Hope revealed the comms chief had replied to the first letter with a text message.
Hope said some 40 members of the Lobby had met “to consider how we propose to go forward with the new arrangements given their imposition without any consultation and your refusal to meet to discuss them”.
Number 10 has said it does not comment on operational matters.
Hope has asked for the Government to set out its concerns with the previous arrangement of holding briefings at the House of Commons.
He added: “The [Lobby] committee was clear that its concern has never been about a reluctance to ‘cross the road’ for a briefing.”
Hope said the invitation to meet and discuss the issue still stands. The Lobby committee will meet again in a month to discuss how the new arrangements are working.