Alok Sharma defends Boris Johnson's lockdown rule slip-up as he hits out at journalists for 'gotcha' questions

Sophia Sleigh, David Child
·4-min read
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Getty Images

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has accused the media of engaging in a “gotcha” style of journalism when it comes to quizzing ministers about the latest regional and national coronavirus regulations.

His comments came after Boris Johnson apologised after making a public slip-up concerning lockdown measures in north east England. The Prime Minister stumbled over an explanation of the ban on households mixing , saying that he “misspoke” when replying to questions asking whether the new regulations would apply in settings such as beer gardens.

Asked about the rules on BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme on Wednesday, Mr Sharma said: “There is an element of slightly gotcha about this in terms of some of this line of questioning. You are a flagship programme when it comes to serious news and it’s not a quiz show.”

Pressed on whether he thought that calling on ministers to explain what their coronavirus regulations were was as “trivial as a quiz question”, he said: “No, absolutely not. But what I’m saying to you is that what is important is if people want to understand the precise restrictions that they have in areas which are more restricted, then they should go on to the (local authority) websites."

“I’ve set out clearly to you, I hope, what the overall message is – which is this rule of six indoors and outdoors, wash your hands, cover your face, make sure you maintain social distancing – and I think people understand that," Mr Sharma added.

“The issue always comes with what happens in my local area and the best way you can find that out is go on to those websites and find out.”

Mr Sharma again accused the media of engaging in a “gotcha” style of journalism when appearing in another interview with BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker.

Responding to a question from Mr Walker asking whether it "mattered" that Mr Johnson had misspoken on Tuesday regarding Covid-19 restrictions, Mr Sharma replied: "I think this is one of those sort of gotcha questions you get coming on these programmes."

In another interview on Wednesday, Mr Sharma also accused BBC Radio 5 Live host Rachel Burden of asking a "gotcha" question after she asked the Business Secretary how many households were permitted to meet in a pub in Bolton.

"What your listeners will want to know is what are the rules in England, and the rules in England are that you should follow the rule of six inside and outside," he said, citing the ban on people coming together in social gatherings of more than six people.

"The best way of fighting this infection is to regularly wash your hands, to cover your face and to maintain social distancing."

Similarly, when asked in a separate interview with LBC presenter Nick Ferrari if he was across the rules, Mr Sharma replied: “Nick it’s so early in the morning for a gotcha question.”

Commenting on the Business Secretary's approach, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted on Wednesday morning: “Not sure it really flies to say it's a 'gotcha' question to expect government ministers to know what the rules are that they are asking millions of people to follow.”

Labour shadow health minister Alex Norris meanwhile criticised Mr Sharma’s deflection of Boris Johnson’s coronavirus rules confusion as “gotcha” questioning.

Mr Norris said: “The Prime Minister should understand the rules he is asking huge numbers of people to follow. That’s not a gotcha, that’s just basic Government competence.”

In response to questions, Mr Johnson had said on Tuesday: “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.”

But the Prime Minister 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," he added.

The regulations, which were not published until Tuesday evening, state that people who operate premises should ensure groups gathering outdoors do not exceed six unless an exception applies, suggesting groups can still socialise outside provided they adhere to the rule of six.

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