The shadow home secretary has demanded that the cabinet minister Robert Jenrick fully explain himself after travelling more than an hour to visit his parents at the weekend – despite warning others to stay at home during the coronavirus lockdown.
The Guardian revealed that the housing, communities and local government secretary – who has made media appearances urging people to save lives by remaining in their properties even if they are tempted to see loved ones – went to see his parents at their Shropshire home, 40 miles by road from his own.
It also emerged that Jenrick travelled 150 miles from his London property, where he stayed at the start of the lockdown, to his £1.2m Herefordshire home from where he travelled to his parents. His website says he lives with his family near Newark, his constituency in Nottingham, and London.
The revelations also prompted a former Tory minister to accuse Jenrick of “arrogance”. But Jenrick defended his actions, saying he went to deliver food and medicine to his isolating parents. However, the Guardian understands his parents – who are aged 69 and 79 – were already receiving help from the local community, raising questions over the necessity of his trip.
What do the restrictions involve?
People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:
- Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
- One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
- Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home
Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:
- Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
- Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
- Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals
Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.
Asked whether he thought Jenrick was ignoring the government’s stay-at-home advice, Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that’s for him to explain. As you know, the delivery of essential supplies like food and medicine to vulnerable people, vulnerable family members, would be permissible in the exceptions that there are for people to go outside.
“But I think it’s very important now for public confidence that Robert Jenrick fully explains himself and why exactly that journey was necessary.”
Downing Street defended Jenrick with a spokesman insisting the minister had complied with social distancing guidelines.
Government instructions say: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.” The only exception is if they need help, such as having shopping or medication dropped off.
The former Tory minister Anna Soubry, who left the party in opposition to its stance on Brexit, tweeted on Friday morning: “The selfish arrogance of 2 trips #RobertJenrick telling cramped families in inner city high rises or squeezed suburban homes to #StayAtHome is bad enough but justifying it by asserting he didn’t break the rules is shameful. Snr Ministers must practise what they preach.”
She added: “#RobertJenrick didn’t break #COVID-19 rules but he totally ignored his own instruction to #StayHome which he repeatedly said in media interviews & from the No 10 podium. It smacks of arrogance. For some time many of us have said Govt messaging must be clear, consistent & honest.”
Steve Reed, Labour’s new communities spokesman, earlier told the Daily Mail: “MPs need to set an example to everyone about the importance of not moving around the country and if Robert Jenrick can’t provide a very good explanation as to why these trips were necessary then he needs to consider his position.”
After the Guardian’s story was published, Jenrick tweeted: “For clarity – my parents asked me to deliver some essentials – including medicines. They are both self-isolating due to age and my father’s medical condition and I respected social distancing rules.”
Defending moving to his Herefordshire property, he told the Mail that his family considered it the family home.
Nearly three weeks ago the government published guidance warning people against all but essential travel, highlighting this “does not include visits to second homes” and that “people must remain in their primary residence”.
Jenrick’s actions were defended by others, with Prof Paul Cosford, the emeritus medical director of Public Health England (PHE), suggesting it sounded like Jenrick had remained within the four “clear” guidelines by travelling 40 miles to deliver medicine and other essential items.
“I can’t comment on Mr Jenrick. It sounds as if what he did was within one of the four guidelines to me, but others will obviously have to think about that more,” he said.
Speaking at the daily No 10 lobby briefing, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The secretary of state has set out in two different statements the reasons for the journeys that he made.
“We are confident that he complied with the social distancing rules.”