£2m was spent to prepare for daily government press briefings that now won’t happen

Monday, 11th January 2021, 3:03 pm
Updated Monday, 11th January 2021, 3:03 pm

The UK Government’s plans to run regular televised press briefings in the style of the US White House has been shelved on the day it was supposed to launch, according to reports.

The plans would have given national media the chance to regularly put questions to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new press secretary, Allegra Stratton, in front of TV cameras.

The briefings were due to take place on a daily basis and scheduled to run in the evening, just prior to the news at tea time.

It was thought that more opportunity for scrutiny and public health messages to be communicated by Downing Street would be beneficial during the pandemic, with plenty of resources put into laying the groundwork for the briefings to begin.

£2m spent on media suite for briefings

Around £2 million was spent on developing the media suite in Downing Street and making it fit for purpose. A lengthy hiring process, which sought to find the ideal candidate to lead the briefings, eventually saw ex-journalist Allegra Stratton pick up the £100,000 per annum role.

Stratton was formerly national editor for ITV news, but more recently was employed as Communications Director for chancellor Rishi Sunak, where it is reported she came up with the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ slogan.

Stratton has close personal ties with Sunak, who was best man at her wedding to political editor of the right-leaning Spectator magazine, James Forsyth.

However it has now been confirmed that the launch of the press briefings will be postponed until the end of the pandemic, although reports suggest that many MPs do not think they will ever go ahead.

Will briefings go ahead in future?

Speaking to the Daily Mail, an unnamed government source said: "There was a view that it would seem we were trying to glamorise or put a showbiz spin on a very serious story, which is Covid.”

Ms Stratton told journalists: “We are looking closely at the best communication for the period we now find ourselves in. We have a new strain of coronavirus that’s 50 per cent more infectious. The Prime Minister’s taken the steps he’s taken in the last few days, and we are considering the best way to support this and to get across public health messaging.”

While there had been reports that Labour leader Keir Starmer was planning to launch his own regular televised press briefings to counter the government’s, it is unclear whether these will still go ahead despite the Number 10 briefings being scrapped.