Business Secretary Alok Sharma has accused journalists of engaging in “gotcha” lines of questioning and emulating a “quiz show” when asking government ministers to clarify new Covid-19 restrictions in the UK.
The cabinet member made the comments after ministers including the Prime Minister were not able to describe coronavirus restrictions – ignorance of which can lead to thousands of pounds in fines – in media appearances on Tuesday.
Sharma told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “The best way if people are in areas where there are restrictions to find out precisely what the position is for that area they should go onto the gov.uk website or indeed the website of their local authority, and they will see those very clearly laid out.”
On journalists asking about restrictions, Sharma added: “There is an element of slightly ‘gotcha’ about this, in terms of some of this line of questioning. You are a flagship programme when it comes to serious news, and it’s not a quiz show.”
Asked whether these restrictions were “as trivial as a quiz question”, he replied: “No, absolutely not. But what I’m saying to you is that what is important is if people want to understand the precise restrictions that they have in areas which are more restricted, they should go on the websites.
“I’ve set out for you, clearly I hope, what the overall message is, which is this ‘rule of six’ indoors and outdoors, wash your hands, cover your face, make sure you maintain social distancing and I think people understand that.”
Commenting on the appearance, Labour shadow minister Alex Norris said: “The Prime Minister should understand the rules he is asking huge numbers of people to follow. That’s not a gotcha, that’s just basic government competence.”
“You are a flagship programme when it comes to serious news, and it’s not a quiz show”
Business Secretary Alok Sharma tells #R4Today there's an element of "gotcha" about questions on what exactly the coronavirus restrictions and rules are https://t.co/9dBQYyzMQq pic.twitter.com/kN1j5F4CpL
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) September 30, 2020
Boris Johnson at a policy announcement event on Tuesday claimed the ‘rule of six’ would allow “six in a home or six in hospitality but, as I understand it, not six outside”, although the ‘rule of six’ does apply in outside settings.
In the North East of England, mixing with other households in pub gardens or outdoor restaurant spaces will not be illegal, but the Department for Health and Social Care has said that it does go against advice for the area.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner accused Johnson of being “grossly incompetent” and pointed out that the new North East restrictions were “due to come into force across huge parts of the country” that evening.
The Prime Minister’s confused explanation 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.