Boris Johnson was left fumbling when asked if he could clarify regulations on pub gardens in north east England amid confusion over the rules.
Tough restrictions banning “indoor mixing between households in any setting” are being enforced on Tuesday evening to help curb the spread of coronavirus in a number of areas.
Asked to clarify whether the restrictions extend to pub gardens, the Prime Minister tied himself in knots, seemingly referring to the rule of six.
He said: “On the rule of six, outside the areas such as the north east where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside, six outside.
“And in the north east or other areas where extra tight measures have been brought in, you should follow the guidance of the local authorities.
“But it is six in a home, six in hospitality, but as I understand it, not six outside. That is the situation there.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner branded Mr Johnson “grossly incompetent”. “For the Prime Minister to not understand his own rules is 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.”
Mr Johnson later apologised. In a Tweet following his speech, he said: “Apologies, I misspoke today.”
He added: “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 Department for Health and Social Care was approached for comment but no explanation was available.
However, while it is understood that pub and restaurants are not covered by the new legal restrictions, it is against Government “guidance” to meet people from other households in those settings in affected areas.
“This applies to inside and outside of the affected areas. Examples of public venues include pubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, places of worship, community centres, leisure and entertainment venues, or visitor attractions,” the guidance says.
It comes after both Downing Street and education minister Gillian Keegan were unable to say whether households could mix in pub and restaurant gardens under the new regulations.
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 added: “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.”
Asked the same question on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, education minister 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.”
Asked 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.”