Nicky Morgan calls on Boris Johnson's aide to 'sort out feud with journalists'

5 February 2020, 13:34

Boris Johnson and Nicky Morgan
Boris Johnson and Nicky Morgan. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan has said that Boris Johnson's communication chief needs to resolve a feud with political journalists after they walked out of talks on Monday.

Baroness Morgan has called on Boris Johnson's communications officer Lee Caine to meet with Westminster reporters after disagreements prompted a boycott of a Number 10 briefing.

Senior "lobby" journalists walked out of the talks, which were focusing on the Prime Minister's Brexit plans, after journalists from certain publications were shut out.

The exclusions prompted fears that certain members were being barred because of unfavourable coverage and the head of the Civil Service was urged to investigate the "deeply disturbing" move.

Baroness Morgan said it is on Mr Cain to meet with the Mail's Jason Groves and the Mirror's Pippa Crerar, the elected chairman and chairwoman of the lobby and the press gallery respectively.

She stated that they have made it clear that they were "always very happy to talk".

Ms Morgan also defended the selection of certain journalists to attend the "technical" briefing with the PM's Europe adviser, David Frost, and said the lobby had been given access to Mr Johnson's Brexit speech and discussions with his official spokesman.

"But, at the end of the day, I don't think it serves anybody for this as a debate to be continuing, and I hope very much that the best thing would be for the co-chairs for the press lobby here in Westminster to sit down with the director of communications and to work this out," she said.

She denied that the move was carried out with an "Orwellian intent", and Downing Street sources said it was "clearly nonsense" to claim the decision was made on political grounds.

Boris Johnson and his communications manager Lee Cain
Boris Johnson and his communications manager Lee Cain. Picture: PA

The Conservative minister acknowledged that there had been "some difficulty" between the media and politicians when asked about the subject after a speech on the future of the media at the Policy Exchange think-tank.

The prime minister was set to speak with journalists about the European Union on Monday, but reportedly banned The Mirror, i, Huffington Post, PoliticsHome, Independent and others from attending.

One reporter who was present described the action as "sinister and sad."

The two groups were separated on either side of a rug in Number 10's entrance hall, and Mr Cain ordered one half to leave.

When his actions were questioned, he told reporters: "We are welcome to brief whoever we want, whenever we want."

The rest of the journalists, including Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC, ITV’s Robert Peston and political journalists from the Daily Mail, Telegraph, the Sun, Financial Times, and Guardian then walked out in protest against the government for attempting to select who scrutinises it.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn raised the issue in the Commons, saying it was "no wonder the Prime Minister is shutting newspapers out of Number 10'' as he highlighted criticism of his Government.

Mr Johnson replied by saying Labour had blamed the media for the party's disastrous election campaign.

"I don't blame them - I'm a journalist, I love journalism, and I think the people of this country don't blame the media," he added. "They can see the media do their best to represent the reality."

Labour leadership hopeful Sir Keir Starmer wrote to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, calling for him to investigate the "deeply disturbing" move which he said was "damaging to democracy".

He argued that the media's access to the PM's chief negotiator "should not be determined by political favouritism".