PM rejects claim of lack of transparency amid row over press access

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has rejected claims he attempted to dodge journalists at the Scottish Conservative conference after a planned press conference almost descended into chaos.

Number 10 officials originally planned to have a press conference with the Prime Minister after his address to the event in Glasgow, with seven journalists allowed access and six of them permitted to ask questions.

But more than the invited reporters arrived at the press conference, irked at what they claimed was a lack of access to the Prime Minister.

Douglas Ross and Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, right, with Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross during the Tory conference in Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Officials initially allowed them to stay, with only the invited media permitted to put their questions to Mr Sunak.

But with the Prime Minister running late for the press conference following his speech, an aide told journalists he would now only be doing a single interview with a broadcaster that could be shared with other outlets – prompting outrage from those in the room.

Tensions rose during an exchange between the waiting press pack and two Downing Street aides, when broadcasters refused to interview the Prime Minister.

Almost an hour later, as a result of negotiations between journalists and Number 10, aides said Mr Sunak would speak to the journalists, taking questions from the six initial invitees, and do a pooled broadcast interview.

Questioned on the situation when the huddle started more than an hour later than planned, Mr Sunak rejected accusations of a lack of transparency.

“Just yesterday, I filmed quite an extensive interview with BBC Scotland, a part of which was pooled and mad available to other broadcasters, and I’ve just done another pool clip earlier today, and I’m speaking to half a dozen of you here, which was always the plan,” he said.

Put to him that the press conference only went ahead because of the protests of journalists, the Prime Minister said: “That’s just completely wrong, completely wrong.

“I was always due to speak to, I think, about half a dozen or so (journalists) today.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association – which represents reporters working at Holyrood – said: “Journalists expect to be able to hold the Prime Minister to account when he is in Scotland as a vital part of the democratic process.

“Today’s actions to restrict access are unprecedented and undermine that important principle.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said later that journalists had been “rightly upset about it”.

He said: “I will be making the strongest possible representations to Number 10 about it.”

Speaking about the situation, Mr Ross added: “It was unnecessary and shouldn’t have happened.

“I always speak to the press, have as many questions as you need to take.”