Dominic Raab defended paying a Russian firm £2.6million to create a White House-style media briefing room in Downing Street today, amid safety and cost fears.
The Foreign Secretary suggested the project represented ‘value for money’ and said the UK was open to investment from firms based in Russia and China ‘where it’s safe’.
Yesterday it was revealed that a firm called Megahertz was hired to install microphones, control desks, cameras and computers in the No 9 Downing Street suite.
Megahertz is owned by Okno-TV, a Moscow-based company that works closely with state-controlled broadcaster Russia Today, whose UK output has repeatedly been censured by Ofcom.
But Mr Raab told LBC radio today: ‘We’re not saying that we’ve got a problem with the Russian people or the Chinese people. Indeed if you look at, for example on the Chinese front, the British Chinese community make an incredible contribution here.
‘We’re not saying all businesses from either of those two countries are bad, far from it, we welcome, we want to be an outward open looking country and of course in relation to any government contract, we want to get the best value for money.
‘Yes of course the big emphasis on buying British but ultimately we want to get the best value for taxpayers money.’
He added: ‘The reality is we’re an open, outward looking country, we want foreign direct investment where it’s safe, where it can be done without risk to our own country or dirty money making its way into this country, but that is part of our shtick, our USP as global Britain.’
The Foreign Secretary suggested the project represented ‘value for money’ and said the UK was open to investment from firms linked to Moscow and Beijing ‘where it’s safe’
Downing Street’s new White-House style media briefing room, created with £2.6 million of taxpayer’s money, has been revealed
In a nod to the White House, a podium is at the head of the room complete with an official Downing Street lectern in front of four Union Jack flags
Earlier this month, it was revealed that the government spent £2.6 million on renovations to make the room ready for the briefings, which will be fronted by fronted by former journalist Allegra Stratton
Boris Johnson to unveil review saying Russia and China are ‘biggest threats’ to UK security
Boris Johnson will today declare that the UK is boosting its nuclear arsenal as a major review warns that Russia and China are the ‘biggest threats’ and a biological ‘dirty bombs’.
Unveiling a strategy that could define Britain’s future as a world power, the PM will signal a shift to a ‘more robust position on security and deterrence’ including troops being deployed overseas ‘more often and for longer periods’.
The limit on the number of nuclear warheads is set to be increased from 180 to 260. But the Integrated Review of security, defence, and foreign policy will also herald a huge shift in emphasis from conventional forces to cutting edge warfare, with investment in space and laser weapons.
It is set to highlight the ‘active threat’ of Russia under Vladimir Putin, while stressing that Beijing poses a ‘systemic challenge’ to prosperity. A successful chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attack is considered ‘likely’ by 2030.
And worryingly the document says another pandemic is a ‘realistic possibility’ this decade. ‘Infectious disease outbreaks are likely to be more frequent to 2030,’ it says.
The blueprint will be laid out by Mr Johnson in a statement to the Commons, where he will warn that Western values are not guaranteed to come out on top – and restate his commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of Britain’s income on aid once the coronavirus crisis is past.
The 100-page review, which was leaked last night, will set out the Government’s view of Britain’s place in the world after Brexit.
It declares: ‘We will move from defending the status quo within the post-Cold War international system to dynamically shaping the post-Covid order.’
The construction of the room within No 9 Downing Street began last year when the government announced plans to hold televised briefings.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that the government spent £2.6 million to make the room ready for the briefings, which will be fronted by former journalist Allegra Stratton.
Now, photos have revealed the result of the work including a plush new studio and seating for reporters. In a nod to the White House, a podium is at the head of the room complete with an official Downing Street lectern in front of four Union Jack flags.
A source told ITV News last night: ‘A Russian-owned firm has been installing all of the communications equipment in Number 10. Questions need to be asked, the company does big installations for a number of organisations – but this is government.’
Ms Stratton, a former journalist, said there were ‘absolutely not’ any security concerns, adding: ‘Clearly, in a contract like that we take all the necessary measures to ensure the highest standards of security.’
However, the Labour Party questioned the contract process for the renovation.
The revelation came as images of the new briefing room were ridiculed online with some users questioning the liberal use of Tory blue and dubbing it a ‘dictator’s podium’.
Last night Labour’s shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said: ‘Given how much money Boris Johnson has thrown at his latest vanity project, we were expecting something a bit more impressive.
‘This raises serious questions on who is getting rushed-through government contracts.
‘And that’s before we even get to why our nurses are getting a pay cut while the government spends millions on a media briefing room.
‘The fact the government seems to have simply brushed this off with no further transparency or assurances on how they’re spending British taxpayer money is deeply concerning.’
The televised briefings were said to be the brainchild of Boris Johnson’s former adviser Lee Cain and are expected to be vehicles for the Conservative government to report on its policies.
They are expected to run in a similar way to White House press briefings with Ms Stratton answering questions on behalf of the Prime Minister and government.
As a politically-appointed special adviser, rather than an impartial civil servant, she will be able to take aim at opponents as well as defend the Government’s actions.
Critics slammed the design on social media after the photos were revealed.
One wrote: ‘Dictators Podium. Why is it blue. Is it going to be a Trump like party political broadcast room?’
Another said: ‘The blue is disturbing here. It subliminally says U.K. state = the Tory party. Whereas until now, elections, the apparatus of state, its laws, traditions, and erm, accountability mechanisms and standards were the framework within which parties operated.’
While a third said: ‘Looks a bit cheap doesn’t it?’
The new briefing room seems to have been inspired by the White House. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing on March 15
Much of the equipment used in the briefing room was installed by a Russian-owned company with links to state broadcaster Russia Today
Firm Megahertz was hired to install microphones, control desks, cameras and computers. Megahertz is owned by Okno-TV, a Moscow-based company that works closely with state controlled broadcaster Russia Today
In response to a Freedom of Information request earlier this month, the Cabinet Office issued a breakdown of the costs of the renovations totalling £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT
The televised briefings were said to be the brainchild of Boris Johnson’s former adviser Lee Cain and are expected to be vehicles for the Conservative government to report on its policies
They are expected to run in a similar way to White House press briefings with Ms Stratton answering questions on behalf of the Prime Minister and government
In response to a Freedom of Information request earlier this month, the Cabinet Office issued a breakdown of the costs of the renovations totalling £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT.
It said the funds had been spent to allow daily broadcasting by news organisations within the Grade-I listed building.
‘This will necessarily require one-off capital works, including audio-visual equipment, internet infrastructure, electrical works and lighting,’ the response said.
‘This spending is in the public interest as the new broadcasting of lobby briefings will increase public accountability and transparency about the work of this Government now and in the future.
‘Such spending on maintenance and technical facilities reflects that 9 Downing Street (the Privy Council Office) is a Grade I listed building.’
An advert said the salary for the press secretary role would be based on experience, but reports suggested the taxpayer-funded post would pay around £100,000 a year.
The FoI response, which was delayed by several weeks as officials decided whether the disclosure was in the public interest, included £1,848,695.12 for the ‘main works’.
Other costs included £198,023.75 on ‘long lead items’, and £33,394.63 on broadband equipment.
The launch of the televised briefings had been anticipated as early as the autumn, but in January No 10 said they were being delayed as ministers planned to hold regular press conferences during the lockdown.
Lobby correspondents, the political reporters based in Parliament, currently have daily briefings with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, or his deputy. Both are civil servants.
But under proposals set out in July, an afternoon session will be filmed at 9 Downing Street and will be led by Ms Stratton.