DOWNING Street dropped England’s chief nurse from a daily briefing after she refused to back Dominic Cummings, sources have said.
Boris Johnson’s top adviser sparked a row last month after travelling to Durham and Barnard Castle during lockdown while sick with Covid-19.
Number 10 and the Prime Minister have stood by the aide, even putting on an unprecedented press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden where Cummings gave a statement and took questions on his journey.
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The Independent reports that two days after deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam made headlines for saying lockdown rules “apply to all” when asked about the PM’s adviser, Ruth May was due to take part in the UK Government’s daily coronavirus briefing.
A senior NHS source told the newspaper that before the briefing was due to start a special adviser asked her how she would respond if she were asked about Cummings’s trip – and she replied that she would respond the same way as Van-Tam.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock presented the slides on Covid-19 himself afterwards, alongside John Newton from Public Health England.
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The source said: “A No 10 SPAD [special adviser] asked her directly how she would answer the Dominic Cummings question and she refused to play along and told them she would answer the same way as Jonathan Van-Tam. She was dropped immediately from the press briefing.”
Another said: “JVT was the first to publicly push back on TV. Everyone is being asked to support the government positions prior to doing a press conference. If they don’t, they get dropped.
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“First it was Dominic Cummings, then easing lockdown and now the R-rate and the two-metre rule.”
Van-Tam has not appeared at the Downing Street press briefings since May 30, when he made the comment about Cummings.
On May 28 Johnson also blocked chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance from answering questions on the Cummings row before both figures said they didn’t want to be pulled into politics as civil servants.
May was also due to appear at the June 5 press conference but did not manage to after being stuck in traffic.
Number 10 denied claims May had been dropped from the June 1 conference over her views on the PM’s adviser and said health and scientific advisers would continue to take questions during the briefings.