Tories’ competence questioned as minister fails to clarify lockdown rules

A government minister has been unable to clarify whether new restrictions banning households in swathes of north-east England from meeting indoors applies to pub and restaurant gardens, as a raft of stricter measures were enforced on parts of the country.

Education minister Gillian Keegan was unable to give details on whether new restrictions in north-east England stop people from separate households meeting in pub and restaurant gardens.

The series of new measures for England came into force yesterday, including a ban on mass singing in pubs, £1,000 fines for falsely reporting that someone must quarantine, and a £4,000 fine for those deemed “reckless”.

Nearly 2 million people in north-east England also face fines of up to £6,400 if they mix with other households indoors in a significant extension of lockdown powers. For the first time since the pandemic began, it will be illegal for people in part of the UK to meet people they do not live with in pubs, bars or restaurants.

Asked to clarify how the rules would affect millions of households in the north east Keegan was unable to answer.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m sorry I can’t clarify that.

“I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure they can find out the answer to that question.”

Pressed on how people are meant to keep up to date with the latest restrictions when ministers cannot, she added: “I’m sorry I can’t answer that question. I’m sure there are many people who could. I don’t represent the north east.”

Alex Norris, Labour’s shadow health minister, said Keegan’s inability to provide crucial information was indicative of the governments incompetence in handling its response to the pandemic.

Norris said: “It speaks volumes that even the government’s own ministers don’t know what’s going on. This will do little to inspire public confidence in the north east and across the country.

“The Conservatives’ incompetence is hampering our response to this pandemic,” he added.

It came as the leader of Gateshead council has said he was not warned that new restrictions were to be imposed to stem the spread of coronavirus across parts of north-east England.

Martin Gannon agreed that the measures were “unfortunately” necessary to deal with the cases having “skyrocketed” in the north east, but said a “proper” test-and-trace system could have managed the pandemic.

“It was announced in the House of Commons and we were not told beforehand that announcement was going to be made,” he said.

“However, we had had discussions last week that led us to believe that this was going to happen. We just weren’t pre-warned that it was actually going to happen. It didn’t help.

“I got inundated with telephone calls and emails last night from people asking, ‘Can we do this, can we do that?’ and actually I didn’t have the precise wording of the regulations in front of us.

“So it is a bit chaotic the way these things happen, Nick (Forbes, Newcastle city council leader) was quite right to be annoyed about that.”



Meanwhile, the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, urged the government to let Bolton’s pubs and restaurants reopen, pointing to other areas that have higher infection rates but no restrictions on hospitality.

He tweeted: “This is the problem with local restrictions. Once they’re in, they tend to stay in. And the longer they’re in, the more the anomalies/injustices grow.

“Either ministers close hospitality in places with high cases with compensation. Or let Bolton’s open today. It’s that simple.”

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