A Downing Street official has claimed that the government’s chief scientific and medical advisers refused to do a press conference with Boris Johnson minutes after Dominic Cummings’ statement in the Rose Garden.
The Sunday Times has reported that Boris Johnson’s advisers decided that the prime minister should take questions from the media on Monday to make it clear he was happy with Cummings’ statement, and that he wanted to draw a line under it.
‘The idea was that he would make clear that he was satisfied with Dom’s account and try to shut it down,’ a Downing Street insider told the newspaper.
But at the same time, a ministerial aide told the publication that Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, had refused to appear with Johnson at the event.
They made it clear to the prime minister they would not back his aide publicly, despite being lined up to appear alongside the PM, and left Downing Street minutes later.
. – Credit: PA
‘Whitty and Vallance refused to do the presser [press conference],’ one ministerial aide said.
Johnson went on to appear alongside Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle, as questions were raised about the disappearance of the two advisers.
The pair of advisers failed to make any further appearances until Thursday evening, when Johnson attempted to block them from answering questions on Cummings.
Johnson told reporters: ‘I know that you’ve asked Chris and Patrick but I’m going to interpose myself if I may and protect them from what I think would be an unfair and unnecessary attempt to ask any political questions.
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‘It’s very, very important that our medical officers and scientific advisers do not get dragged into what I think most people would recognise is fundamentally a political argument.’
After three questions the pair were asked if they were happy with Johnson preventing them from answering.
Prof Whitty replied: ‘The desire to not get pulled into politics is far stronger on the part of Sir Patrick and me than it is in the prime minister.’
Sir Patrick added: ‘I’m a civil servant, I’m politically neutral, I don’t want to get involved in politics at all.’
Johnson said: ‘Good. Unfortunately I have no choice.’