Priti Patel has got the government’s coronavirus lockdown rules wrong after repeatedly insisting they are “clear”.
The home secretary was tasked with leading Number 10’s coronavirus press conference on Tuesday amid criticism that the government's lockdown restrictions are confusing.
The issue of the rules, and their enforcement, has been a major talking point in recent days after two friends were fined £200 each having driven five miles to meet for a walk in a Derbyshire beauty spot – though their fines were rescinded on Monday.
At the briefing, Patel – who said on at least six occasions that the rules are “clear” – had been asked why the rules are not as tough as they were during the first national lockdown, which was imposed in March last year.
She then listed a “very, very limited number of reasons” why people are allowed to leave their homes during England’s third lockdown.
Among the reasons she gave was “outdoor recreation” – but this is not allowed under the government’s rules.
Watch: Priti Patel’s message to COVID rule-breakers
Here is what Patel said:
“The rules are actually very simple and clear. We are meant to stay at home and only leave home for a very, very limited number of reasons.”
The home secretary then listed key reasons why people can leave their home, including to go to work when they cannot work from home, and for vulnerable children and children of key workers to go to school.
She then said:
“And then, of course, outdoor recreation, but in a very, very restricted and limited way – staying local. I've said that several times over the last week.”
The government’s rules, however, state:
“It is against the law to meet socially with family or friends unless they are part of your household or support bubble. You cannot leave home for recreational or leisure purposes (such as for a picnic or a social meeting).”
Under the rules, it is outdoor exercise, once a day, that is permitted within people’s “local” areas.
The Home Office later clarified Patel was talking about exercise when she referred to “recreation”.
However, there has also been confusion over the exercise allowance as the government’s lockdown rules do not define what “local” means in terms of distance.
This meant Boris Johnson came under fire for his Sunday bike ride around London’s Olympic Park, seven miles from his Downing Street home.
However, Number 10 defended his bike ride earlier on Tuesday and suggested that he doesn’t regret it, despite the government’s new messaging asking people to “act like they have the virus”.
Johnson’s bike ride, the fines of the two women in Derbyshire (which health secretary Matt Hancock said he supported before they were rescinded) and Patel’s mix-up at the Downing Street press conference have added to the narrative of perceived mixed messaging from the government.
This is something it has been accused of throughout the pandemic. As primary schools reopened on Monday last week, for example, Johnson said “schools are safe”. Nine hours later, he announced they would shut as part of the lockdown.
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown