Major given cover by Kremlin 'wall'

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THE Prime Minister was protected from the rough end of Fleet Street yesterday by a Kremlin wall of bureaucracy which forestalled hostile questions about sex scandals at home.

British officials said that, at the last minute, Kremlin staff had limited the numbers admitted to a press conference for the Prime Minister and Boris Yeltsin, the Russian president, to 10 each from Britain and Russia.

Mr Yeltsin and Mr Major answered only three questions, all on Bosnia, after toasting each other with champagne at the signing ceremony in the Kremlin.

Back to basics was not raised and only one question was taken from a member of the British press travelling with Mr Major - from Mike Brunson of ITN.

The 'press event' at the Kremlin was a far cry from the public relations disaster in Japan last September, the Prime Minister's last trip abroad with Westminster lobby journalists.

Tory party leaders had clearly decided not to allow any repetition of the 'feeding frenzy' by the press pack over the leadership question, which overshadowed the Far-East tour.

It was partly fed by Mr Major with his off-the-cuff remarks about some of the 'barmy' critics on his own backbenches. Christopher Meyer, the Prime Minister's press secretary, who replaced Gus O'Donnell last month, warned lobby journalists on the Prime Minister's plane to Moscow that they would be 'wasting time' if they asked Mr Major about back to basics.

He needn't have bothered - none had the opportunity to do so until last night when it was raised in a television interview by Adam Bolton of Sky TV. Mr Major shrugged it off: 'Politics is a turbulent trade. If you don't like that turbulence, don't get into politics.' It was pointed out to Mr Major that Mr Yeltsin also suffered from the critics in his own 'barmy army'.

Asked how he coped with the criticism, Mr Major said: 'Criticism is the very stuff of politics. If you don't like criticism, don't be in politics. Criticism is the nature of the game.'

(Photograph omitted)