Boris Johnson gives blunt response over accusations the experts didn’t sign off new messaging

PUBLISHED: 17:18 11 May 2020 | UPDATED: 18:56 11 May 2020

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

HOC/JESSICA TAYLOR

The prime minister has rejected newspaper reports that the government’s new “stay alert” message was not signed off by two of its keys experts.

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The Guardian reports that neither Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer (CMO), nor Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser (CSA), were asked to sign off the new messaging which saw “Stay At Home” dropped but maintained in Wales and Scotland.

A Whitehall source told the newspaper neither he nor Whitty had been asked to approve the move out of lockdown because it was not in their brief.

“It is not the CMO or CSA’s role to approve government strategy or branding,” one official claimed.

As Johnson spoke in the Commons, Liberal Democrat acting co-leader Sir Ed Davey asked the prime minister to respond to the reports.

But the prime minister took just four seconds to respond: “That’s not right.”

His spokesperson later did not deny the reports. They said: “The government developed the roadmap and the strategy for coming out of lockdown using scientific and medical advice. The new campaign messaging is based on the guidance developed as part of the roadmap.”

Pressed further by journalists, they added: “We developed the road and strategy using scientific and medical advice and the campaign messaging is based on that roadmap.”

The Lib Dems criticised the reports that Johnson had not consulted the experts around him.

Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson, said: “The government’s failure to secure the approval of the chief medical officer or the chief scientific adviser for this significant shift in public health messaging beggars belief. If the government is following the science as it has repeatedly claimed to be, working closely with the CMO and CSA on all public messaging should be a given.”

She added: “The new ‘stay alert’ message is deeply confusing, out of step with other UK nations and it’s unclear what scientific guidance – if any – informed this decision.

“Ministers must explain the basis for the new messaging and who exactly was consulted about the change.”

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