Grant Shapps has denied reports that the chief nursing officer for England was dropped from Number 10 press briefings because she refused to defend Dominic Cummings.
Ruth May was stood down from a briefing when she refused to support Mr Cummings’ decision to move his family 260 miles to Durham to stay on his parents’ farm, according to reports.
She had been due to appear alongside Matt Hancock on June 1, but was cut when she felt unable to defend the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, according to the Independent.
When asked about the claims at Friday’s briefing, Mr Shapps said: “I don’t think it is true. She has attended them many times before. I notice that at the top of the No 10 Twitter feed I see one of her tweets pinned,” he said.
“I am absolutely sure she has been a regular contributor before and I am sure she will be back here again.”
Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May @CNOEngland explains how to use a home testing kit for coronavirus.
This is just one of the ways you can get tested for coronavirus.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) June 1, 2020
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said he did not know anything about the row over Ms May, but added: “All I can say is that I have been here many times saying exactly what I think.”
The Independent quoted an NHS source saying Ms May was dropped when she said she would follow the example set by deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam if asked about Mr Cummings.
Prof Van-Tam had said lockdown rules “apply to all” on May 30 and has not appeared at the briefings since.
A second source said: “Everyone is being asked to support the Government positions prior to doing a press conference. If they don’t, they get dropped.
“First it was Dominic Cummings, then easing lockdown and now the R-rate and the two-metre rule.”
The Government has come under fire from some quarters for its management of the briefings, with commentators complaining they are being used as a spin exercise.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has attacked the Government for its decision to stop including global Covid-19 death comparison data in press briefings in mid-May.
The data was dropped just days after the UK overtook Italy to have the highest death toll in Europe.
Mr Johnson said in the Commons comparisons with other countries were “premature because the correct and final way of making these comparisons will be when we have all the excess death totals for all the relevant countries”.
Sir Keir responded: “The problem with the Prime Minister’s answer is it’s pretty obvious that for seven weeks when we weren’t the highest number in Europe they were used for comparison purposes, as soon as we hit that unenviable place they’ve been dropped.”