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'Get a grip': Labour slams Tory ineptitude as PM can't describe government's own social distancing rules

BORIS JOHNSON apologised today for his and his government’s ignorance over new local coronavirus measures for north-east England.

The Prime Minister claimed he “misspoke” when he was asked to explain the new rules announced on Monday night, which came into force today.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner criticised Mr Johnson as “grossly incompetent” for not understanding his government’s ban on separate households mixing in private and in public.

The tightened restrictions apply to Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham.

Mr Johnson had said: “It is six in a home, six in hospitality but as I understand it, not six outside.”

This led to people asking whether separate households could meet in an outdoors hospitality space, such as a pub garden.

Mr Johnson later tweeted: “Apologies, I misspoke today. 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.”

Law-breakers could be fined £200 – halved if paid within 14 days. Second offences would incur a £400 fine, which would then double for each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £6,400.

Households mixing in pub gardens or outdoor restaurant spaces is not illegal, but goes against advice, the Department for Health and Social Care said (DHSC).

The clarification came after education minister Gillian Keegan could not say whether people can or cannot meet in pub gardens.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure they can find out.”

When asked how people are meant to be informed when ministers are not, she added: “I’m sorry I can’t answer that question.”

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said it was “seriously concerning” that “the PM is threatening the public with fines if they don’t follow rules which he doesn’t even know himself.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was also criticised by local leaders for only giving them just over 24 hours’ notice of the rules.

Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council, told BBC Radio 4: “I got inundated with telephone calls and emails last night from people asking, ‘Can we do this, can we do that?’ and actually I didn’t have the precise wording of the regulations in front of us.”

In response, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said he believes the DHSC had engaged with councils “for a number of days in advance of the announcement.”

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