Minister denies being source of leak about second lockdown

A Cabinet minister among the small circle reportedly at a Downing Street crisis summit to discuss a second lockdown has denied being the source of a leak to newspapers.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said he did not brief reporters on details of the new coronavirus restrictions before the Government intended to announce them – nor does he know who the source might be.

The Times reported on Saturday that Boris Johnson planned to hold a press conference on Monday after discussing alarming new virus data with Mr Gove, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Friday.

Other papers, including The Daily Mail and The Telegraph, also reported similar details, attributed to Cabinet sources, and the leaks forced the Prime Minister to act sooner.

The selective briefings drew scorn from MPs, business and public service leaders, and social media users.

Mr Johnson has launched an inquiry to find the source of the leak, and Mr Gove insisted it was not him.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied the briefings were by his staff at No10 (Alberto Pezzali/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied the briefings were by his staff at No10 (Alberto Pezzali/PA)

Asked by Andrew Marr on the BBC if he leaked the information, Mr Gove replied: “No.”

Asked if he knows who did leak it, he again said: “No.”

Conservative backbenchers were outraged the media learned of the new lockdown before Mr Johnson made an announcement in Parliament.

In a WhatsApp message seen by the PA news agency, the Prime Minister wrote to Tory MPs to apologise to them and assure that Downing Street had not informed journalists of the measures on Friday.

“Let me assure you that the leak was not a no10 briefing and indeed we have launched an inquiry to catch the culprit,” he wrote.

It is not the first time Government communications have been criticised over the pandemic.

In September, the Speaker of the House of Commons accused Mr Hancock of “running this chamber ragged” by not giving Parliament details of changes in restrictions before the media.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle told MPs: “I accept that decisions have been taken in a fast-moving situation, but timings for statements are known to ministers.”