No.10 Downing Street’s efforts to bar certain reporters from a “selective briefing” on PM Boris Johnson’s plans for a post-Brexit free trade agreement with the EU triggered a walkout, with all correspondents leaving in solidarity.
A group of press arriving at No.10 to cover a “technical background briefing” on the UK’s post-Brexit trade negotiations with the EU on Monday ended up walking out in a show of journalistic solidarity after half of them were told to leave. As reporters from the Independent, the Mirror, PoliticsHome, and HuffPost – among others – were told to take a walk, their peers followed them out, leaving Johnson’s communications director Lee Cain deflecting accusations of Trumpism.
Political reporters stage a mass boycott of a No10 briefing on Brexit after officials bar reporters from the Mirror, Independent and other outlets from attending.
The briefing was supposed to be given by politically-neutral government officials, chiefly among them Brexit negotiator David Frost, who was set to explain what position the UK would take in upcoming trade talks with the EU. While politicians and partisan advisers may select ‘friendly’ reporters or publications for specific pressers, briefings given by neutral government functionaries are supposed to be conducted on a non-partisan basis. However, when a reporter for the Independent asked Cain why he was being turned away, he was reportedly told, “We are welcome to brief whoever we want when we want.”
Daily Mirror editor Pippa Crerar, one of the spurned reporters, called the experience “deeply uncomfortable…sinister and sad.” Labour accused Johnson of “resorting to tactics imported from Donald Trump to hide from scrutiny” in a statement after the walkout. The US president has become known for his characterization of the mainstream American media as “fake news,” with further epithets specific to particularly-hated publications and outlets: CNN is “very fake news,” while the nation’s two newspapers of record have become. “failing New York Times” and the “Amazon Washington Post.”
The most sinister, or lame, part of the Number 10 operation to brief only select-political journalists was the involvement of the poor Downing St doorman. Told that he was instructed to split those gathered into those who would, and wouldn’t be briefed like a school-master.
Downing Street responded to the accusations by claiming it has held briefings for its so-called “inner lobby” of hand-picked journalists for at least six months. A No.10 source told the Guardian that the meeting in question was one of these latter types, claiming there had been a “normal” meeting for all journalists after Johnson’s speech. “A number of uninvited journalists” had merely barged into the smaller gathering and “demanded to be part of it,” becoming upset when told they were not welcome, he explained.
No 10’s reaction – I’d just point out that nobody “barges in” to Downing Street. If you tried, you’d get shot.
Johnson’s government has been characterized by an antagonistic relationship with the press that began before his election and has only become more obvious. Senior government ministers were recently advised not to appear on BBC Radio 4’s Today program at all, with that program joining ITV’s Good Morning Britain and all of Channel 4 on a growing list of media no-go zones. Johnson has warned the BBC that the days of the license fee are numbered.