No 10 accused of ‘unprecedented’ attempt to restrict access to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
The No 10 press team attempted to restrict access to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before opening up the brief Q&A to more journalists.
Seven journalists from selected outlets were initially invited to meet with the PM after his address to the Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow.
This was rejected by journalists attending the conference and advisors ultimately relented to allow more to attend.
One No 10 advisor then told the press to “delete your tweets” about restricting access.
Asked about the saga afterwards, Sunak said the idea the press were being refused access was “completely wrong” and it was “always the plan” for him to answer questions.
He said: “That is absolutely not my understanding of what’s happened. Just yesterday I filmed quite an extensive interview with BBC Scotland, part of which was also pooled and made 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.”
It comes after several senior Conservatives criticised the SNP for a lack of transparency around the party’s finances and other matters.
The huddle with journalists lasted six minutes and was an hour later than planned.
A statement from the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association said the actions of No 10 “undermine” the ability of the press to hold the PM to account.
It 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.”
The Scottish Lib Dems accused the prime minister of “abject cowardice”. Christine Jardine MP said: “As someone who has worked as both a journalist and an adviser in Downing Street, it’s clear to me this attempt was a move of abject cowardice from Number 10.”
Sunak was also questioned about Richard Sharp, the chair of the BBC who resigned this morning after a report found he did not disclose potential perceived conflicts of interest during his appointment.
The investigation was launched after questions were raised about Sharp’s role in the facilitation of a loan to former prime minister Boris Johnson.
Sunak said while he had not “seen the report” yet, the resignation had been accepted by his culture secretary.
But he refused to guarantee that Sharp’s replacement would be a non-political figure or Tory party donor. He said: “There’s an appointments process that happens for those appointments. I’m not going to prejudge that.”
Asked whether the SNP was fit to govern given the party’s current difficulties, Sunak said: “The people of Scotland want their two governments to work constructively together to deliver for them.
“I can’t answer for the SNP; what I can tell you is what we’re doing and what we’re doing is helping support the million most vulnerable Scottish families this week with direct cash to help with their bills.
“When I was here last year, we announced the creation of two freeports – again that’s a UK government idea that’s going to bring jobs, that’s going to bring investment for young people in Scotland and provide them with a better future with lots of opportunities. That’s what the UK Government is focused on.”