Angela Rayner has accused Boris Johnson of being “grossly incompetent” as he failed to understand Covid rules on household mixing set to come into force tonight in the North East of England.
Commenting after the Prime Minister made a televised appearance in Exeter today, Labour’s deputy leader criticised Johnson for his muddled answers on the circumstances in which households will be allowed to mix.
Johnson told the public this afternoon: “On the rule of six, outside the areas such as the North East where extra measures have been brought in, it is six inside and six outside.
“In the North East and other areas where extra tight measures have been brought in, you should follow the guidance of local authorities. But it is six in a home or six in hospitality but, as I understand it, not six outside.
“That is the situation. But clearly, for everybody watching tonight, I appreciate that this is one of those things that people will feel is confusing.”
The Prime Minister was wrong to assert that his government’s ‘rule of six’ will not apply to outside settings. Under the new North East guidance, inter-household mixing outside will not be illegal but the ‘rule of six’ will apply.
Boris Johnson’s mistake followed the failure of government minister for apprenticeships and skills Gillian Keegan to clarify whether the changes in the rules would affect pubs and restaurants on the BBC this morning.
Tougher restrictions in the North East of England banning “indoor mixing between households in any setting mixing”, such as pubs and restaurants, are being enforced from 12am on Wednesday.
It had already been illegal for two households to mix inside or in a garden, but it was only specified as guidance that they should not meet at public venues, including restaurants and pubs.
Commenting after the Prime Minister’s appearance this afternoon, Rayner said: “For the Prime Minister to not understand his own rules is grossly incompetent.
“These new restrictions are due to come into force across huge parts of the country tonight. The government needs to get a grip.”
Labour’s health spokesperson Jon Ashworth also pitched in after widespread criticism of the incorrect statements made by the Prime Minister, tweeting: “In a pandemic, clarity is everything.
“People want to follow the rules and need the Prime Minister to be clear about what they are and why implemented. I again urge ministers to set up website/app where people can tap in post code & find out all local rules.”
Johnson has since tweeted to say that he “misspoke” during the conference. He clarified: “In the North East, new rules mean you cannot meet people from different households in social settings indoors, including in pubs, restaurants and your home.
“You should also avoid socialising with other households outside. This is vital to control the spread of coronavirus and keep everyone safe. If you are in a high risk area, please continue to follow the guidelines from local authorities.”
Keir Starmer has repeatedly criticised Johnson for unclear messaging throughout the pandemic. He told The Andrew Marr Show earlier this month: “One of the very important things in a pandemic is that there’s clarity of communication.”