UK minister Alok Sharma: asking Boris Johnson to explain Covid rules is a ‘gotcha’ question

PM prepares to address nation over handling of coronavirus

Boris Johnson was unable to explain his own virus restrictions for the north-east of England. AFP
Boris Johnson was unable to explain his own virus restrictions for the north-east of England. AFP

The British Business Secretary said today that asking the prime minister about his own coronavirus restrictions was a quiz-style “gotcha” question designed to catch him out.

Alok Sharma was defending Boris Johnson after he got the detail wrong on new coronavirus laws for the north-east of England.

Mr Johnson was asked whether people from different households in the north-east could still meet up in a pub garden, but answered incorrectly and later admitted he 'misspoke'.

He replied by talking about the rule of six when official guidance actually renders it illegal for people from multiple households to socialise in beer gardens and outdoor restaurants in that area.

Asked about the gaffe on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme today, Mr Sharma suggested journalists were asking questions better suited to a quiz show.

He said: “There is an element of sort of slightly gotcha about this in terms of the line of questioning.

“You are a flagship programme when it comes to serious news - it’s not a quiz show.”

Mr Sharma was pressed on whether he thought it was wrong for the media to push the prime minister for details on his coronavirus plan.

He said: “Absolutely not. What is important is people want to understand the precise restrictions that they have. In areas that are more restricted, they should go on the websites.

“The best way you can find out is go on the websites and have a look.”

Mr Johnson will address the nation today amid growing dissent within Tory party ranks over his response to a second wave swiftly spreading across the country.

Britain, which has the worst official death toll in Europe, reported 7,143 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest single figure to date, and 71 deaths, the worst daily toll since July.

Mr Johnson is facing growing anger within his own party over the most severe restrictions in peacetime history that are destroying swathes of the economy.

"The price we will not pay is that we will not surrender parliamentary democracy and the rule of law in order to fight this virus - these things are too important," said Steve Baker, one prominent rebel Tory MP.

"We need prior approval of measures, major measures on a national scale and indeed a regional scale which take away people's liberties.”

Large swathes of the UK and tens of millions of citizens are subject to local restrictions brought in to try to slow the second wave.

It comes as the economic damage was laid bare: the UK’s economy shrank by a record 19.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 - more than any other major advanced economy.

The UK is borrowing more than at any time since World War Two while unemployment is rising and some businesses have complained that Mr Johnson's restrictions are killing their livelihoods.

The prime minister, who fell gravely ill himself earlier this year with Covid-19, said the virus must be brought under control otherwise the death and economic damage it will inflict will be much more serious.

Updated: September 30, 2020 04:40 PM

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