Minister suffers car crash interview over lockdown rules

Minister suffers car crash interview over lockdown rules

September 29, 2020

Not even the Government understands the lockdown laws! Skills Minister Gillian Keegan admits she ‘doesn’t know’ if friends can meet in pub gardens – as it’s revealed council Covid marshals can use ‘reasonable force’ to enforce laws

  • Gillian Keegan unable to answer questions on rules in North East of England
  • Minister could not ‘clarify’ if rules on households mixing apply to pub gardens
  • Came as it emerged ‘Covid marshalls’ could have power to use ‘reasonable force’

Skills Minister Gillian Keegan suffered a series of car crash interviews this morning as she was unable to answer key questions over new coronavirus rules in the North East of England. 

Ms Keegan was asked whether restrictions banning households in the region from meeting indoors from tomorrow applied to pubs and restaurant gardens. 

She said ‘I don’t know the answer to that question’ as she admitted she did not fully understand the rules less than a day before they are due to come into force. 

Labour pounced on the misstep and said ministers ‘don’t know what’s going on’ amid a mounting backlash over the Government’s latest coronavirus crackdown. 

Meanwhile, Tory disquiet over new rules, regulations and fines increased after it emerged the authorities will have the power to use ‘reasonable force’ to make people self-isolate.  

New laws published by the Government state that ‘reasonable force’ can be used if someone refuses to comply with an instruction to stay at home after testing positive for coronavirus or if they have been in contact with someone else who has the disease.

The power will be available to all ‘authorised persons’ amid reports that could include so-called ‘Covid marshalls’ as well as the police and council staff.   

Skills Minister Gillian Keegan was unable to answer key questions about new coronavirus restrictions which will soon apply in the North East of England

Households across the North East will be banned from mixing indoors from tomorrow. Newcastle city centre is pictured on September 17

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday announced a tightening of measures for Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.

Aimed at stopping a resurgence of coronavirus, the Department of Health said laws would ban inter-household mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants.

But some questioned whether the measures, to be enforced with fines, would include meeting people from other homes outside in hospitality settings.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, Ms Keegan said: ‘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 even ministers cannot, she said: ‘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.’

Labour quickly seized on the failure to clarify the confusion over the laws, set to be imposed after midnight on Wednesday.

Shadow health minister Alex 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.’ 

With 16 million Britons now under draconian restrictions, Tory MPs have warned of ‘national lockdown by default’.

Conservative backbenchers are increasingly angry at the Government for rolling out restrictions on freedoms without first putting measures to a vote in Parliament. 

They said their constituents are ‘incredibly irritated’ at the latest crackdown and warned that while ‘they will grudgingly abide by it in the short term… they want to know where the end is’. 

Mark Harper, the Tory former chief whip, summed up the Conservative discontent in the Commons yesterday as he lashed out at Mr Hancock over the new rules and regulations. 

‘The laws that came in at midnight, for example, were 12 pages of laws, with lots of detail, criminal offences and duties not mentioned when they were set out in a statement last week,’ he said.  

‘That includes duties on employers, directors and officers, with serious criminal penalties. 

‘We need to scrutinise the detail of the legislation before it comes into force and give our assent, and not, I am afraid, just allow the Secretary of State to put it into force by decree.’ 

Tory MPs are hoping to force a vote tomorrow on forcing the Government to put all future measures to a vote in Parliament before they are rolled out. 

A group of up to 80 Tories are poised to support a rebel amendment when the Government asks the Commons to formally renew the Coronavirus Act for another six months. 

There are questions over whether Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will select the amendment tabled by Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers. 

But senior Tory Sir Desmond Swayne today warned that if the amendment is not selected some Conservative MPs could opt for the ‘nuclear option’ of voting against the renewal of the Act. 

Accusing ministers of governing by ‘fiat’, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If there isn’t a vote on the amendment and there isn’t a satisfactory response from the Government to the demands of the amendment, many people will vote against a renewal of an act.

‘Well when I say many, there will be a number, but certainly the Government isn’t going to be defeated.’  

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