Questions over dwindling appearances from experts at daily coronavirus briefings

Dominic Raab has suggested medical and scientific experts are too busy to attend coronavirus briefings every day as he was quizzed over their participation.

Foreign Secretary Mr Raab was asked today why the weekly appearances at the Government press conferences by scientific and medical experts had reduced by half since the start of June.

He said: “In terms of presence at these press conferences, scientists and the chief and deputy medical officers will continue to come and attend these press conferences.

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“I think it is also true to say that as we go down the road map and start to talk about the changes we are making, whether it is to business, schools or other areas, we will also bring other independent experts along and make sure we can answer the full range of questions that people have.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Photo: PA

Put to him that there were some questions that medical experts would be more equipped to answer than ministers, Mr Raab added: “Well, you haven’t tried me on a question I can’t answer yet but I am happy to be proved wrong.

“Look, you are right to say the scientists and the medical adviser are important.

“They will continue to attend these press conferences, perhaps not on a daily basis – they’ve got a huge amount of other work to do – and undoubtedly the politicians need to answer the judgement calls we make based on the evolving science.”

Earlier in the day Number 10 insisted there was not an issue in the Government’s relations with the scientists who appear at the daily coronavirus press conferences.

Asked if there was a problem as there are now fewer appearances by the scientists, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “No – last week you saw, from memory, the chief medical officer, the chief scientific adviser, you saw NHS England’s medical director, you saw Baroness Harding who is in charge of test and trace, you also saw the Health and Safety Executive and a couple of others as well…

“There won’t be an expert there every day but you will still see them.”

It comes after reports that Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were on “resignation watch" and that the chief nursing officer for England was dropped from Number 10 press briefings because she refused to defend Dominic Cummings.

Ruth May was stood down from a briefing when she refused to support Mr Cummings’ decision to move his family 260 miles to Durham to stay on his parents’ farm, according to reports in The Independent.

She had been due to appear alongside Matt Hancock on June 1, but was cut when she felt unable to defend the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, the newspaper reported.

When asked about the claims at Friday’s briefing, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I don’t think it is true. She has attended them many times before. I notice that at the top of the No 10 Twitter feed I see one of her tweets pinned."

But the Liberal Democrats said there had been a "deliberate move away from expert advice".

The party's health spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “The image of the foreign secretary standing alone at the press conference was stark.

“We have seen over the past week a deliberate move away from expert advice and transparency at the daily press conferences.

“It is absolutely crucial that people have faith in the government through their handling of the coronavirus crisis, particularly as the lockdown is eased and people come into more contact with each other.”