Politics

COVID-19: Downing Street says Boris Johnson was ‘already at Chequers’ when told to isolate – as Keir Starmer slams ‘insensitive’ initial bid to ‘dodge’ quarantine

Downing Street has said the prime minister was already at his country retreat when he was contacted by NHS Test and Trace and told to isolate – as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer labelled Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s initial decision to “dodge” quarantine as “crass and insensitive”.

According to the prime minister’s official spokesman, he was contacted by NHS Test and Trace while at Chequers this weekend after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for COVID-19.

He confirmed Mr Johnson has been tested and is negative.

Initially the prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson travelled to Chequers “at the start of the weekend, but I don’t have the exact time”.

Later in the briefing the spokesman said: “My understanding is that the prime minister travelled to Chequers on Friday.”

The spokesman then suggested Mr Johnson had left for Chequers on “Friday morning”, before correcting himself several minutes later to say that the prime minister had in fact met Mr Javid on Friday morning and did not leave Downing Street for Chequers until 3pm.

“The prime minister followed the correct process, he was contacted by NHS Test and Trace and has isolated subsequently,” he said.

But Sir Keir said the furore was another example of ministers believing there is “one rule for them, and another for everyone else”.

“With family events cancelled, businesses having to close and workers having to go without pay, Johnson and Sunak’s attempts to dodge isolation were crass and insensitive,” he said.

“At a time when we need to maintain confidence in self-isolation, parents, workers and businesses will be wondering what on Earth is going on in Downing Street.

“That’s why I’ve written to the prime minister, because there are still far too many unanswered questions.”

Speaking at a regular Westminster briefing for journalists, Mr Johnson’s spokesman refused to answer a question about whether the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, was with him at Chequers.

Downing Street also confirmed the chancellor is isolating “in his flat above Number 10”, but would not confirm whether other officials have been required to self-isolate.

On Sunday morning, a Downing Street statement on behalf of Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak said they would take part in a workplace contact testing pilot rather than self-isolate, before the decision was reversed hours later.

Asked about the reason for that U-turn, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “I think the prime minister set out his rationale in the video he put out over the weekend.

“We recognise that isolation, given the high prevalence currently, is something that a number of people are experiencing, and the prime minister and the chancellor wanted to make clear they’re following the wider rules that a member of the public is subject to currently.

“The workforce contact testing pilots are important because it’s useful to get that information that can help inform future decisions about how contact testing can be used going forward.”

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