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Editor hits out as ‘unbelievable’ Sunak snubs hometown paper

Ben Fishwick newThe editor of Rishi Sunak’s hometown newspaper has hit out after the Prime Minister refused to speak to its journalists.

Ben Fishwick, pictured, has criticised Mr Sunak after the Southern Daily Echo was “kept out in the cold” with no access during a visit by the PM to his birthplace of Southampton yesterday.

According to Ben, Downing Street blamed “security reasons” for the decision not to invite the Echo to Mr Sunak’s speech, where he announced a new plan allowing pharmacists to write prescriptions, or to take questions from reporter Jose Ramos when he attempted to gain access to the event.

The snub comes less than a fortnight after Scottish political journalists forced a U-turn from the PM after he tried to block some reporters from interviewing him at the Scottish Conservatives conference.

Posting on Twitter yesterday morning, Ben wrote: “Unbelievable – Rishi Sunak is in Southampton making an announcement about pharmacies. Mr Sunak is from Southampton – but will not be taking any questions from the Daily Echo. We weren’t invited or told about the visit but did go.

“Jose has been at Weston Lane Surgery waiting to hear/speak with the Prime Minister – he’s been kept out in the cold with no access – and the PM has now left by a side door, avoiding our reporter & other media.

“This flies in the face of culture secretary Lucy Frazer’s words at a Downing Street Local Media Champions reception where she told me: ‘Local journalists capture the heart of our communities and make sure politicians are doing their jobs better by holding them to account.’

“It turns out that words are easy – I can’t understand why the PM would refuse to speak to a local journalist in his home city. Boris Johnson last year agreed to a sit-down interview at Southampton Airport with the Echo. What’s changed?

“I’m told by the Number 10 press office that it’s standard practice to have a pool reporter and this is due to security reasons.

“To me – and others – this will no doubt look like a PM dodging tough questions from the local press.”

Ben has subsequently written to the 10 Downing Street press office outlining his concerns about the incident.

He wrote: “The visit is now over, and I understand there is no opportunity for this to be rectified today.

“Given Mr Sunak’s important links to Southampton and the community here, will he agree to an interview with one of my reporters about the big issues facing my readers in Southampton?

“The lack of NHS dental care, many families in poverty, the levels of violence against women and girls, vulnerable children struggling to attain standards in reading, writing and maths – these are all issues that matter to people here, in the city where he grew up but we were not able to ask him about these serious problems.

“I look forward to your response in due course detailing the reasons why our reporter was barred from this visit – beyond being told of security reasons and that it’s standard practice.

“My colleagues will be in touch with specific questions about the pharmacy announcement.”

Ben told HTFP he has since received a phone call from No 1o in response saying the Echo would be considered in the next “local huddle” and that they would “consider the outlet” for future opportunities.

HTFP has approached Downing Street for a comment.