Political journalists have boycotted a briefing at No 10 Downing Street after one of Boris Johnson’s aides banned selected reporters from attending.
The walkout took place after a confrontation inside No 10 in which Lee Cain, Johnson’s most senior communications adviser, tried to exclude reporters from the Mirror, i, HuffPost, PoliticsHome, Independent and others.
Reporters on the invited list were asked to stand on one side of a rug in the foyer of No 10, while those not allowed in were asked by security to stand on the other side.
After Cain told the banned journalists to leave, the rest of the journalists decided to walk out collectively rather than allow Downing Street to choose who scrutinises and reports on the government.
Among those who refused the briefing and walked out were the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, ITV’s Robert Peston and political journalists from Sky News, the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Sun, Financial Times and Guardian.
The briefing was due to be given by government officials, who are meant to be neutral rather than political, but it did not happen because of the walkout.
The tactics from No 10 mirror those of Donald Trump in the US, who has been known to try to exclude journalists from reporting on his activities, and represents an escalation of Johnson’s tensions with the media, which have been increasing in recent weeks.
Political journalists have already complained about No 10 changing the location of its daily briefings with the prime minister’s official spokesman from a room in parliament to Downing Street, meaning they are now held on government territory.
Johnson’s communications team has also banned ministers from appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and boycotted ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
Ministers have been told not to lunch with political journalists and it was briefed over the weekend that Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s senior adviser, has a “network of spies” to see whether other special advisers are fraternising with the media.
After the walkout, a senior No 10 source said there was a normal briefing for all lobby journalists after the prime minister’s speech and that the later one was a “smaller, selected briefing for specialist senior journalists”.
The source said “a number of uninvited journalists barged into No 10 and demanded to be part of it” but were told they could not attend.
The banned journalists who tried to attend the briefing had passed through Downing Street’s security scanners, shown their parliamentary passes and knocked on the door to gain entry.
All the invited journalists were political editors rather than Brexit specialists.