Chief nursing officer Ruth May has confirmed she was dropped from a Number 10 press briefing during the lockdown travel storm surrounding Dominic Cummings.
She had been due to appear alongside Health Secretary Matt Hancock on June 1, but was cut when she felt unable to defend the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, according to The Independent.
Ministers had previously denied that Ms May was blocked from taking questions because she refused to defend Mr Cummings after he moved his family 260 miles from London to Durham to stay on his parents’ farm while strict travel restrictions were in place during the lockdown.
I believe that, in my opinion, the rules are clear and they are there for everyone’s safety and they applied to us allRuth May
But speaking to MPs on Monday, Ms May confirmed she had prepared for a press conference in June but was stood down.
She told the Commons Public Accounts Committee she did not know why she was dropped.
“It is indeed true that I was dropped from a briefing but that happens to many of my colleagues as well,” Ms May told MPs.
“That is a regular occurrence.”
Pushed on why she was not allowed to appear, she said: “I don’t know why I was dropped, chair.”
Ms May, asked whether it was requested that she defend Mr Cummings, she said: “At all press briefings, we talk about a lot of these preparation questions.
“And yes, of course, I was asked about lockdown and rules to lockdown, yes.”
Ms May said she thought the stay-at-home lockdown rules applied to everyone in the country.
She said: “I believe that, in my opinion, the rules are clear and they are there for everyone’s safety and they applied to us all.”
Her words echoed those of deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam who, when asked about Mr Cummings’ example at a briefing on May 30, had said lockdown rules “apply to all”.
In its initial story, the Independent quoted an NHS source saying Ms May had been dropped after saying she would follow the example set by Prof Van-Tam, who was also then allegedly blacklisted for a number of weeks.
A second source reportedly told the media outlet: “Everyone is being asked to support the Government positions prior to doing a press conference.
“If they don’t, they get dropped.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It is scandalous that the nation’s most senior nurse was silenced at the height of the pandemic because she wasn’t prepared to parrot Downing Street spin about Dominic Cummings’ blatant rule-breaking.
“As the chief nursing officer indicates, it’s unacceptable that there was one rule for Johnson’s elite friends and another for the rest of us.”
Layla Moran MP, a Liberal Democrat leadership candidate, said the incident suggested ministers were “happy to silence the science when it suits them”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had defended the Government against the allegations during a media briefing on June 12.
When asked about the claims last month, Mr Shapps said: “I don’t think it is true.
“She (Ms May) has attended them many times before.
“I am absolutely sure she has been a regular contributor before and I am sure she will be back here again.”
The Government put a stop to the daily press conference on June 23, instead opting to restate them for announcements on an ad-hoc basis.