Boris Johnson Apologised After Muddling The New North East Lockdown Rules During Chaotic Press Conference
30 September 2020 International News
Boris Johnson was last night lampooned and urged to ‘get a grip’ after becoming muddled with the North East’s lockdown rules, forcing him to make a rare apology for ‘misspeaking’.
In a toe-curling episode that mirrored comedian Matt Lucas’s spoof of government bumbling, the PM floundered as he was grilled on how the restrictions work – suggesting that households could still mix in groups of six indoors.
To cap his embarrassment, Mr Johnson then had to tweet to clear up the confusion, saying he had misspoken and households will not be allowed to mix indoors, regardless of numbers.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner claimed the PM did not understand the rules he is imposing on two million people.
She added: ‘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.’
Mr Johnson also faced a backlash from Tory MPs who are using the blunder as firepower to force greater parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s coronavirus powers.
It came at the start of what could be a very uncomfortable 24 hours for the Prime Minister. He is due to address the nation at a press conference today alongside medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance.
It could provide a fresh avenue both Mr Johnson’s and the scientists’ critics amid anger over the direction of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the PM has defended their advice and expertise that has led to local lockdowns and early closures of pubs, Tory MPs have vented their ire on the pair in recent days, with calls for them to be sacked.
The mess came after skills minister Gillian Keegan suffered a series of car crash interviews Tuesday morning, admitting she was unable to answer key questions over new curbs that came into effect from midnight.
Answering questions about the North East lockdown at Exeter College in Devon yesterday, Mr Johnson said: ‘On the rule of six, outside the areas such as the North East where extra measures have been brought in, it is six inside, six outside.
‘And in the North East and other areas where extra tight measures have been brought in you should follow the guidance of the local authorities.
‘But it’s six in a home or six in hospitality, but as I understand it not six outside. That is the situation there.’
Whitehall sources said No10 had been blindsided by Matt Hancock’s decision to press ahead with the new restrictions, which had not been expected until at least the end of this week.
The PM’s blunder had uncomfortable echoes of the skit by Lucas, which was aired at the start of the Great British Bake Off on Channel 4 last week.
It saw the comedian dressed up as Mr Johnson taking a faux press conference in Downing Street. Ridiculing the complicated rules, Lucas urged people to ‘bake in a tent’ if they must, before adding: ‘Don’t bake in a tent.’
The incident risks fuelling Tory discontent about the way the the coronavirus crisis has been handled, with anger that swingeing measures have been forced through without Parliamentary scrutiny and the economy is being sacrificed.
The Government is desperately trying to soothe a mutiny among dozens of MPs who have lined up behind an amendment tabled by backbench chief Sir Graham Brady. It insists that Commons votes should be held before any future curbs are put in place.
Mr Johnson begged Tory rebels to ‘work together’ with him as he tried to avoid a damaging rebellion at a crunch vote on the issue which could be held today.
But one Tory MP in the North East told the Telegraph: ‘What happened with Boris only strengthened the argument for greater parliamentary scrutiny of new rules. He can’t work out what the rules are because there is no logic to them.’
Mr Johnson rushed to defuse the row over his muffed explanation of lockdown within hours, issuing a rare apology.
‘Apologies, I misspoke today,’ he wrote.
‘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.’
The government’s use of the sweeping powers it was granted by Parliament at the start of the coronavirus crisis has been causing increasing discontent among Tories.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 – which underpins the lockdown along with the Health Protection Act 1984 – has to be renewed every six months, with a vote due tomorrow.
But ministers have been trying to find a settlement with Sir Graham’s band of rebels after they threatened to derail the process. The government is now expected to commit to holding votes where practical before any further restrictions are imposed.