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‘Not fit to be PM’: Boris Johnson forced to apologise after failing to explain his own COVID rules

George Martin
·3 min read

Watch: Boris Johnson apologises for lack of clarity over North East coronavirus restrictions

Boris Johnson has been branded “totally incompetent” after he was unable to explain the new local lockdown rules for the north-east of England.

During a press conference on Tuesday morning, the prime minister was asked about the new measures announced the previous day.

The prime minister was asked whether people can still meet those from a different household in an outdoor pub garden.

He replied: “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.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during a visit to Exeter College Construction Centre, Exeter, in which he made a pledge to ensure there was "life-long" skills retraining opportunities after the coronavirus pandemic had exposed the "shortcomings" of the UK's educational system.
Prime minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech in Exeter on Tuesday. (PA)

“And 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, six in hospitality but as I understand it, not six outside."

Previous guidance issued by the Department of Health and Social Care stated that those living in the North East were not advised to "mix with people outside their household or bubble in indoor settings, including pubs and restaurants".

Johnson later apologised on Twitter, saying he “misspoke” during the press conference and clarifying that outdoor socialising was also advised against.

An elderly woman wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks in Newcastle, northeast England on September 29, 2020, after tighter restrictions were put in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. - More than two million people in northeast England face new restrictions because of a surge in coronavirus cases, the government announced on Thursday, as it battled to contain a potential second wave of infection. Tighter regulations on socialising are due to come into force from Friday in Northumberland, North and South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, and County Durham. Residents will be banned from socialising in homes or gardens with people from outside their household, while food and drink venues will be restricted to table service only. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
An elderly woman wearing a face mask in Newcastle. (Getty)

Read more: Students might have to self-isolate before going home for Christmas, government says

“Apologies, I misspoke today,” he said.

“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.”

Several Labour MPs criticised Johnson’s fudging of the rules with one, Kate Osborne, saying he is “not fit to be prime minister”.

“For the Prime Minister to not know the latest rules that his government set is an outright disgrace,” Osborne tweeted.

“He’s not fit to be Prime Minister.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner branded the PM “grossly incompetent”.

She said: “These new restrictions are due to come into force across huge parts of the country tonight. The government needs to get a grip.”

Fellow Labour MP David Lammy tweeted: “What a shambles. Boris Johnson appears to not even understand the rules he is demanding the country follows.”

Earlier on Tuesday, a Downing Street spokesperson was also unable to clarify the new lockdown rules for the North East.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The Department of Health are setting out the full details of the steps they announced last night later on today.”

Pressed about the confusion, the spokesman said: “It is the case that events are moving at speed and it’s right that we can move quickly in relation to localised outbreaks working with local leaders to ensure that we have steps in place to help to slow the spread of the virus.”

Watch: People in England face £10,000 fines for not self-isolating

Education minister Gillian Keegan also said she did not fully understand the new rules, some 15 hours before they were to be imposed on Wednesday.

Asked about social distancing in the North East on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday, education minister 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 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."

Coronavirus: what happened today

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