Boris Johnson scraps plans for televised White House-style briefings from £2.6m studio

Harry Yorke
·3-min read
Boris Johnson chairs a briefing on Covid-19 from No 9 Downing Street with Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty.
Boris Johnson chairs a briefing on Covid-19 from No 9 Downing Street with Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty.

Boris Johnson’s plans to hold White House-style press briefings have been abandoned, despite the Government spending £2.6million on a new Downing Street conference facility.

In another major No 10 upheaval, it was confirmed on Tuesday that the Prime Minister had decided to axe the daily televised press conferences.

The No 9 briefing room, which has only recently been renovated, will now be used by the Prime Minister, ministers and officials to hold press conferences.

Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, will now become his spokesman for the COP26 United Nations climate summit, which is taking place in November.

She will move across the road to work in No 9, where Mr Sharma and the Government’s COP26 team are based.

On Tuesday night Ms Stratton, a former broadcast journalist who previously worked for Chancellor Rishi Sunak, said she was “delighted” to be taking on the new role, adding that it was a “unique opportunity to deliver a cleaner, greener world".

“I’m looking forward to working with the Prime Minister and Alok Sharma [the UK’s COP26 President] to ensure it is a success,” she said.

But others suggested Ms Stratton, pictured below, had effectively been sidelined.

Allegra Stratton  - Shutterstock
Allegra Stratton - Shutterstock

A number of Whitehall and government sources have in recent months expressed doubts that the briefings would go ahead, amid claims that some inside Downing Street feared they could backfire.

According to multiple insiders, Ms Stratton is said to have done a number of “practice runs” in January ahead of the briefings commencing, after which some officials in No 10 privately expressed concerns that she was not ready.

James Slack, Mr Johnson’s recently departed director of communications, is also claimed to have advised Mr Johnson to delay the start date for the press conferences.

Last night a Downing Street source strongly denied the suggestion the decision had been due to concerns over “personnel”.

“Up until she [Ms Stratton] was appointed to do the COP spokesperson role she was absolutely going to go ahead. What’s happened during the pandemic is that we’ve seen the value of the PM and ministers fronting up press conferences and the public have welcomed that direct access.

“That is something we want to continue and that is what we will use the press conference facility for. It is more a change of approach and nothing to do with personnel.”

Appointed in October last year, there were also alleged tensions between Ms Stratton and Lee Cain, Mr Slack’s predecessor, who is said to have objected to her appointment.

However, Ms Stratton, an ally of Carrie Symonds, the Prime Minister’s fiancée, was seen to have won out in a power struggle which later saw the departure of Mr Cain and Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former chief aide.

Since her appointment last year, Ms Stratton has been assisting with the daily press briefings given to lobby journalists, which are not televised.