Boris Johnson 'AXES plans for TV briefings'

Boris Johnson ‘AXES plans for TV briefings despite spending £2.6m on converting a room in Downing Street and hiring journalist Allegra Stratton to be the face of them’

  • Boris Johnson s axed plans for White House-style televised press briefings 
  • The Prime Minister had confirmed the proposals for briefing room last year
  • Megahertz was hired to install microphones, control desks and cameras

Boris Johnson has axed plans for White House-style televised press briefings despite spending £2.6million of taxpayer money on the briefing room.

The Prime Minister had confirmed the proposals for an upgraded Downing Street briefing room last year, suggesting the public had liked having more direct information from ministers during the coronavirus press conferences.

However the plans have since been scrapped and the No 9 briefing room, which was installed with microphones, control desks, cameras and computers, will instead be used by the PM, ministers and officials. 

The U-turn comes after it was revealed that Prime Minster’s press secretary and former ITV presenter Allegra Stratton, would be fronting the televised briefings.

Boris Johnson has axed plans for a White House-style televised press briefings despite investing £2.6million on the room

Downing Street’s new White-House style media briefing room was installed with microphones, control desks, cameras and computers

In a nod to the White House, a podium was placed at the head of the room complete with an official Downing Street lectern in front of four Union Jack flags

Ms Stratton had quit ITV News to join Mr Sunak’s increasingly powerful Treasury operation at the end of last year.

The Cambridge University graduate, who is married to James Forsyth, the political editor of The Spectator, had been the favourite since No 10 said that it would be introducing the afternoon TV briefings as part of a bid to communicate more directly with voters. 

Mr Johnson has also declared himself to be ‘impressed’ by Ms Stratton, and recently invited her to join him at Chequers. 

The televised briefings were said to be the brainchild of Boris Johnson’s former adviser Lee Cain and were expected to run in a similar way to White House press briefings, with Ms Stratton answering questions on behalf of the Prime Minister and government. 

The launch of the televised briefings had been anticipated as early as the autumn last year, but in January No 10 said they were being delayed as ministers planned to hold regular press conferences during the lockdown. 

However the latest move will now leave an uncertain future for the wood-panelled briefing room, which was renovated by the Russian firm Megahertz.  

Last year, Mr Johnson said the White House-style televised press briefings would allow the nation to have a ‘more direct, detailed information from the Government about what is going on’.

He told LBC: ‘People have liked a more direct, detailed information from the Government about what is going on – and I think that they’ve actually particularly liked our brilliant scientific and medical advisers, possibly more than the politicians to be frank.

‘We do think that people want direct engagement and want stuff from us, and so we’re going to have a go at that.’ 

Mr Johnson said the White House-style televised press briefings would allow the nation to have a ‘more direct, detailed information from the Government about what is going on’

Last year it was revealed ITV presenter Allegra Stratton would be leading the televised briefings

It was revealed that the government spent £2.6 million on renovations to make the room ready for the briefings

Photos also revealed the result of the work including a plush new studio and seating for reporters. 

In a nod to the White House, a podium was placed at the head of the room complete with an official Downing Street lectern in front of four Union Jack flags.

Russian firm Megahertz , which has links to state-controlled broadcaster Russia Today, was also hired to install microphones, control desks, cameras and computers into the room.

A source told ITV News: ‘A Russian-owned firm has been installing all of the communications equipment in Number 10. Questions need to be asked, the company does big installations for a number of organisations – but this is government.’ 

The images came as a Freedom of Information request showed the Cabinet Office renovations totalled £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT.

The Government said the funds had been spent to allow daily broadcasting by news organisations within the Grade-I listed building.

In a statement the Cabinet Office said: ‘This will necessarily require one-off capital works, including audio-visual equipment, internet infrastructure, electrical works and lighting.

The new briefing room appeared to  have been inspired by the White House. Pictured: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing

‘This spending is in the public interest as the new broadcasting of lobby briefings will increase public accountability and transparency about the work of this Government now and in the future.

‘Such spending on maintenance and technical facilities reflects that 9 Downing Street (the Privy Council Office) is a Grade I listed building.’ 

Televised press briefings have long been in existence in the US, allowing journalists to grill the president of the day’s press secretary. 

After images of the new briefing room were released, Labour Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, ridiculed its appearance.

She said: ‘Given how much money Boris Johnson has thrown at his latest vanity project, we were expecting something a bit more impressive. 

‘This raises serious questions on who is getting rushed-through government contracts.

‘And that’s before we even get to why our nurses are getting a pay cut while the government spends millions on a media briefing room.

‘The fact the government seems to have simply brushed this off with no further transparency or assurances on how they’re spending British taxpayer money is deeply concerning.’    

 

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