Confusion over when Boris Johnson left No 10 for Chequers as spokesperson changes story on isolation

Downing Street in muddle over prime minister’s movements – as Labour demands to know if he knew Sajid Javid was feeling ill

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 19 July 2021 18:29
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Keir Starmer says Tory ministers 'played the system' to avoid self-isolation

No 10 changed its story about when Boris Johnson left for his Chequers country home, as Labour demanded to know if Sajid Javid already had Covid “symptoms”, following the pair’s meeting.

The prime minister’s spokesperson first said the departure was at “the start of the weekend”, then said it was on Friday morning – before correcting himself by stating it was at 3pm on Friday.

He did not answer directly whether Mr Johnson knew if his health secretary was feeling ill when he left London for Chequers – after a Friday meeting between the pair.

“The correct process has been followed,” the spokesperson said, stating Mr Johnson was at the country home when he was identified as a close contact of Mr Javid, by the test and trace system.

“Once contacted by NHS Test and Trace over the weekend, he has isolated and has not travelled subsequently because he did not want to travel across the country,” he added.

Mr Johnson led a press conference by video link – from Chequers – while Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, and deputy medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam spoke from Downing Street.

Sir Keir Starmer said there were questions to be answered, asking: “Did Boris Johnson travel to his country retreat after Sajid Javid first had symptoms?

“We know the prime minister likes to look for a loophole. We need to know when the prime minister was contacted and where he was.”

In a contradictory briefing, the spokesperson was unable to say when Mr Johnson learnt of Mr Javid’s positive test – or when he was identified as a close contact by test and trace.

At one point he stated he left for Chequers on Friday morning – before it was pointed out that there were photos of the health secretary leaving the pair’s meeting early on Friday afternoon.

After stating the departure was at 3pm, the spokesperson said: “The health secretary took his test on Saturday, so the correct process has been followed.”

He would not say whether Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife was with him, but did state that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is quarantining in his flat above No 10.

Downing Street issued a statement at 8am on Sunday stating that both Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak would swerve isolation rules by taking part in a “daily contact testing workplace pilot”

But it was forced into a rapid U-turn amid public anger over the impression that they were dodging strict rules imposed on everyone else contacted by test and trace.

The isolation means a crucial meeting with Irish premier Micheal Martin – to discuss the crisis over the Northern Ireland Protocol and the proposed amnesty for Troubles’ killings – was scrapped.

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