Chancellor Rishi Sunak was accused of “adding to the confusion” over Covid-19 restrictions after ministers were pictured meeting business leaders in a pizza restaurant.
The images show the chancellor with communities secretary Robert Jenrick and a business group at Franco Manca, near London’s Waterloo station. They were published by the Treasury on Thursday.
London is in tier 2 coronavirus lockdown, meaning no one should meet people outside their household or support bubble while indoors. Sunak and Jenrick do not live with each other, or with the business leaders they met.
People are allowed to hold “business meetings” in hospitality settings with up to 30 people from other households, but only if they are freelancers or have no office space.
All other workers are advised to hold meetings “remotely via phone or via video conference”, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said.
Sunak and Jenrick are not freelancers but work full time as ministers and have their own offices.
Nonetheless a Treasury source insisted that the pair had broken no rules – because the restaurant was not in use when the image was taken. That means it was just a private indoor workspace, where yet another exemption means business meetings of up to 30 people are permitted whoever they are.
This did not particularly impress critics.
Christine Jardine, the Lib Dems’ economy spokesperson, told HuffPost UK: “The chancellor is clearly not content will failing to show leadership just once today – by taking part in this photo-op, Rishi is confusing the issue about the government’s own guidelines.
“Politicians, especially the chancellor, should be setting an example rather than adding to the confusion of what the guidelines allow.”
Asked about business meetings taking place in hospitality venues under Covid lockdown, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “In the guidance, there is an exemption for work meetings to take place in hospitality settings.
“Our intention when providing that exemption had been to provide the opportunity for freelancers, or for the self-employed, who didn’t have an office space which they could work in to use hospitality if necessary. That remains the case.
“But, more broadly, I think what we would ask people to do is, wherever possible, to hold meetings remotely via phone or via video conference.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.