Downing Street bars Sunday Times journalists from posing questions during coronavirus briefing

The front door of 10 Downing Street in Westminster

The front door of 10 Downing Street in Westminster - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Downing Street has reportedly barred the newspaper behind the most prominent criticisms of the government's approach to coronavirus from asking questions during daily press briefings.

Sunday Times reporters were reportedly prevented from asking questions at the latest briefing after the newspaper claimed 10 Downing Street 'sleepwalked' into the coronavirus epidemic, and revealing how Boris Johnson failed to attend five COBRA meetings in the lead up to the outbreak.

The Observer's political editor Toby Helm wrote: 'I am told Downing Street also barred Sunday Times from asking questions at its briefing because they dared to criticise government's response to coronavirus. Surely not so in an advanced democracy.'

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He also reported accusations that the government would prevent journalists who criticised the move from asking questions.

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Twitter users were shocked, with one posting: 'Typical cunning Cummings tactics. This guys is single handedly killing British democracy. That why he is on SAGE as well. To prevent sensible advise ever arriving in No 10.'

Another wrote: 'At this rate, it's only going to be Nuts magazine, the Isle of Arran Shoemaker's Gazette and Laura Kuennsberg allowed to ask questions at the 5pm Party Political Broadcasts.'

Former European correspondent for the German TV station Phoenix, Grahame Lucas, commented: 'It is worth noting that the UK is ranked only 35th in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index behind 16 other EU countries. It is nothing to be proud of and certainly does not constitute the usual 'best in the world' hype produced by the right wing media.'

Helm also tweeted that Downing Street had asked the paper to alter a headline of a piece that touched on the public's lack of confidence in the government's handling of Covid-19.

He wrote: 'Downing Street trying to get us to say trust in government not declining and to rewrite this story with new headline. Request refused. We are not edited by Downing Street.'

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