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29 September 2020 20:35

Priti Patel Brexit BBC News

Minister admits even she doesn't know details of north-east lockdown pub meet ban

Louise Minchin, 52, was on hand to grill Apprenticeships and Skills minister Gillian Keegan, 52, about matters such as local lockdowns and whether Government advice on coronavirus was simple enough to understand. The MP answered all the questions the BBC Breakfast host put to her, reiterating the fact the public should adhere to the restriction rules to do their part to defeat the virus. However, BBC viewers watching at home were left raging as they felt the Conservative Party member was repeating herself, rather than providing any new information. Amongst a whole manner of questions the presenter put to the minister, Minchin asked: "With all those different rules, is this not a confusing picture for people?" Keegan told her interviewer: "Well, actually, we've tried to simplify the rules for people. "This global pandemic has had a massive impact on every part of our lives, but whilst we're in this situation where we're learning to live with the virus until we get a vaccine then at the moment it really is hands, face, space." ES News email The latest headlines in your inbox twice a day Monday - Friday plus breaking news updates Enter your email address Continue Please enter an email address Email address is invalid Fill out this field Email address is invalid You already have an account.

Please log in Register with your social account or click here to log in I would like to receive lunchtime headlines Monday - Friday plus breaking news alerts, by email Update newsletter preferences A Government minister has admitted that even she does not know the details of tightened local lockdown rules in north-east England. Skills minister Gillian Keegan was unable to give an answer when she was asked whether the new rules would stop residents from separate households meeting in pub gardens. Tough restrictions banning "indoor mixing between households in any setting mixing", such as pubs and restaurants, are being enforced on Tuesday evening. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the existing measures – for Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham – are being tightened at the request of local councils because coronavirus is still spreading. It had been illegal for two households to mix inside or in a garden, but it was only guidance that they should not meet at public venues, including restaurants and pubs.

Asked about whether the ban would extend to pub and restaurants gardens, Ms Keegan told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I'm sorry I can't clarify that." She added: "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. Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: "It speaks volumes that even the Government's own ministers don't know what's going on. "This will do little to inspire public confidence in the north east and across the country. "The Conservatives' incompetence is hampering our response to this pandemic." Downing Street was also unable to clarify 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 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." Local leaders however have criticised the Government for not giving sufficient advance notice of the restrictions. "I think that the Department of Health have been engaging with local authorities, local public health bodies for a number of days in advance of the announcement being made," the spokesman said. The measures in the north-east will come into force from midnight on Wednesday and will be enforceable with fines, the Department for Health and Social Care said. Making the announcement in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Hancock said: "Unfortunately the number of cases continues to rise sharply. We know that a large number of these infections are taking place in indoor settings outside the home.

"And so at the request of the local councils, with whom we have been working closely, we will introduce legal restrictions on indoor mixing between households in any setting." A Government minister was unable to clarify whether new restrictions banning households in the North East from meeting indoors applies to pub and restaurant gardens. Labour said ministers "don't know what's going on" after Gillian Keegan said she did not fully understand the new rules, some 15 hours before they were to be imposed on Wednesday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock had announced a tightening of measures for Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham. Aimed at stopping a resurgence of coronavirus, his department said laws would ban inter-household mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants. But some questioned whether this would include meeting people from other homes outside in hospitality settings.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday, education minister Ms Keegan said: "I'm sorry I can't clarify that. 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. Labour quickly seized on the failure to clarify the confusion over the laws, set to be imposed after midnight on Wednesday. Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: "It speaks volumes that even the Government's own ministers don't know what's going on. "The Conservatives' incompetence is hampering our response to this pandemic." The new restrictions come into force at 00:01 on Wednesday, September 30. There is confusion around meeting other households in pub and restaurant gardens (Picture: Getty) A Government minister has been hammered for 'not knowing what's going on' after being unable to confirm whether new restrictions banning households from meeting indoors in north-east England applies to pub and restaurant gardens. Gillian Keegan admitted she did not fully understand the new rules, some 15 hours before they are due to be imposed. Later on, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused of causing further confusion in response to a similar question. Labour seized on the BBC Radio 4 interview as an example of Conservative incompetence 'hampering' the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Education minister Ms Keegan could not clarify whether the new rules applied to garden areas of eating venues, after Health Secretary Matt Hancock had announced a tightening of measures for Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham. The move, aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19, bans inter-household mixing indoors, including in pubs and restaurants. Visit our live blog for the latest updates Coronavirus news live But many remain confused about whether this includes meeting people from other homes in outdoor hospitality settings. The Department of Health has since reportedly said it will be against guidance but not illegal. Asked about the issue on the 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.' 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. Labour quickly jumped on the confusion over the laws, which are set to be imposed after midnight on Wednesday. Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: 'It speaks volumes that even the Government's own ministers don't know what's going on. 'This will do little to inspire public confidence in the North East and across the country. Education minister Gillian Keegan apologised for being unable to clarify the rules (Picture: Barrie F Mills) 'The Conservatives' incompetence is hampering our response to this pandemic.' The Government's own guidance for the region says people cannot meet up in each other's homes in the region and that the 'rule of six' does apply outside. MORE: You'll be fined for meeting friends in the pub from midnight in North East A government minister has come under fire after she admitted she did not know the details of new coronavirus restrictions due to come into force in the north east tonight. Labour accused Gillian Keegan, an education minister, of "incompetence" and said her comments would do little to inspire public confidence. Tory MPs have accused previously ministers of ruling by "dictat" and introducing a series of laws with little or no parliamentary scrutiny, leaving ordinary people confused. Ms Keegan had been quizzed about restrictions due to come into force in the north east tonight. Asked if people in the affected areas will be able to book an outside table at a restaurant or meet people from another household in a pub garden, Ms Keegan said: "I'm sorry I can't clarify that... She went on: "I'm sorry I can't answer that question, I'm sure there are many people (in government) who could. She added that she "did not want to make a mistake" by answering the question when she was unsure of the specific restrictions. "I think it is most important that people are very clear about these restrictions," she added. The rules would be made clear to those affected, she said. Alex Norris, Labour's shadow health minister, said: "It speaks volumes that even the government's own ministers don't know what's going on. "This will do little to inspire public confidence in the North East and across the country.