Allegra Stratton

Lockdown hits No 10’s plans for White House-style press briefings

Lockdown appears to have delayed Downing Street’s plans for daily televised press briefings featuring Boris Johnson’s new press secretary, Allegra Stratton, with No 10 saying its communications strategy is under review.

The new White House-style briefings were due to start on Monday in a specially refurbished studio in Downing Street. But in a telephone briefing with journalists on Wednesday, Stratton said the government was taking a fresh look at its approach in light of the changing circumstances.

“We are looking closely at the best communication for the period we now find ourselves in,” she said. “We have a new strain of coronavirus that’s 50% 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.”

Stratton suggested there would be more press conferences featuring ministers and public health experts, like those during the spring 2020 lockdown. “We’re actively looking at the best format,” she said, adding that an announcement would be made shortly about the government’s plans.

The idea of daily televised briefings, with a senior broadcaster acting as the voice of the government, was the brainchild of Johnson’s former senior adviser Lee Cain. But Cain disagreed with Johnson’s choice of Stratton to front them, and subsequently left government, as did his former Vote Leave colleague Dominic Cummings.

The daily briefings were intended to take place with a live audience of political journalists, who could ask questions of Stratton directly, but lockdown rules mean that would not now be possible.

Since late March last year, journalists have contributed questions via video link at Johnson’s Downing Street press briefings. The broadcasts have turned previously little-known figures such as England’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, and his deputy, Jonathan Van-Tam, into familiar public faces.