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Wed, 5 August 2020

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Boris Johnson urged to drop 'childish' Today programme boycott as coronavirus crisis mounts

Boris Johnson urged to drop 'childish' Today programme boycott as coronavirus crisis mounts
4 min read

Boris Johnson has been urged to drop a "childish ban" on allowing ministers to appear on the BBC's flagship Today programme amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak.


Labour said the public "deserves to hear what plans are in place" to steer the country through the crisis, as a man who was quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan became the first British person to die of the virus.

Number 10 has confirmed that the Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Cobra crisis committee on Monday amid a growing number of cases in Europe and the confirmation of three more cases in the UK.

But there has been criticism of the Government's ongoing decision to stay away from the Today programme, which has around 10 million listeners and has traditionally been a place for ministers to face a high-profile grilling during a crisis.

Number 10 has refused to put up any ministers to appear on the programme since the general election, with a source claiming late last year that the BBC spoke only to "a pro-Remain metropolitan bubble in Islington" during the campaign.

They said at the time: "The Today programme is irrelevant, it is not a serious programme any more so we are not going to engage with it – it is far better for us to put people up on BBC Breakfast and Five Live."

The ban meant no government spokesperson took part in the traditional broadcast slot on Friday morning, with former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt - no longer a part of the government - instead offering his insight.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth hit out at the time taken to schedule the Cobra meeting, the first on the crisis to be chaired by Mr  Johnson himself.

He said: "Our part-time Prime Minister needs to get a grip of this escalating situation quickly. It shouldn’t take another 3 days for this meeting to take place."

And the Labour frontbencher said: "People are understandably worried. Boris Johnson should drop his childish ban on ministers appearing on BBC radio programmes. The public deserves to hear what plans are in place to deal with the outbreak.”

Conservative former chancellor George Osborne also took a swipe at the ban, saying ministers should appear on "all major media shows".

He tweeted: "The British Government now needs to go onto a ‘war footing’ with the coronavirus: daily NHS press briefings, regular COBRA meetings chaired by the PM, ministers on all major media shows. The public is fearful, wants information and needs to know their leaders have got a grip."

The SNP meanwhile blasted the Government's response, with the party's deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman also accusing Mr Johnson of "acting like a part-time Prime Minister".

She said: "Instead of relaxing in his lavish grace-and-favour country estate, Boris Johnson should get back to work and get a grip on the situation.
"When a crisis hits, people need confidence that their government is responding – Boris Johnson is utterly failing that basic test of leadership."

And the Liberal Democrats' Ed Davey said: "People across the country are anxious and concerned about Coronavirus: they want to see leadership.

"The Liberal Democrats called on Boris Johnson to chair a COBRA meeting weeks ago to ensure everything was being done to prepare for a potential Coronavirus outbreak. With the NHS already so stretched, it’s gobsmacking that the Prime Minister has delayed chairing COBRA for so long."

A Number 10 spokesman on Friday said of the Cobra meeting: "This is a response to the growing number of cases in Europe and need for PM to make sure everything that can be done is being done.”

And they defended the Government's ongoing boycott of some TV and radio shows, including Today, BBC's Newsnight and ITV's Good Morning Britain.

The spokesperson said: "Over the past weeks and months you will have seen the Heallth Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer do countless interviews and that won't change."

A Number 10 spokesman on Friday said of the Cobra meeting: "This is a response to the growing number of cases in Europe and need for PM to make sure everything that can be done is being done.”

And they defended the Government's ongoing boycott of some TV and radio shows, including Today, BBC's Newsnight and ITV's Good Morning Britain.

The spokesperson said: "Over the past weeks and months you will have seen the Heallth Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer do countless interviews and that won't change."

The row came as the Foreign Office confirmed the death of a British man who had been on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined off the coast of Japan.

More than 700 passengers and crew have the virus, with the British victim taking the death toll of those who had been on the ship to six.

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