Gillian Keegan had a car crash interview as she admitted she had no idea if you can meet your mates in a beer garden in the north east – despite her own government making a criminal law from midnight tonight
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Government coronavirus laws have been plunged into fresh chaos after not even a Tory minister was able to explain how they will work.
Gillian Keegan was left flummoxed in a car crash interview after she was asked if a new ban on meeting up in the North East will apply to pub beer gardens.
From midnight tonight it is illegal to meet people from another household socially in “indoor settings”, including pubs and restaurants, in Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland and Sunderland.
Matt Hancock told the Commons the change will take what was already guidance to people in the north East, and make it the criminal law.
But North East council leaders weren’t even told about the change, the level of fines isn’t clear, and the government hasn’t said if it applies to outdoor terraces or pub beer gardens.
Chichester MP Ms Keegan admitted: “I’m sorry I can’t clarify that.” And asked on Sky News about the rules in different areas, she replied: “I’m not an expert.”
Asked how on earth normal people are meant to keep up with the rules when even she can’t, she replied: “I don’t represent the North East.”
Ms Keegan is not a health minister but was chosen by the government to represent it on a round of morning TV interviews.
Labour attacked the Skills Minister. Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: “It speaks volumes that even the Government’s own ministers don’t know what’s going on.
“This will do little to inspire public confidence in the North East and across the country.
She was asked to clarify whether the new laws in the North East stop people from separate households meeting in pub and restaurant gardens.
She replied: “I’m sorry I can’t clarify that. I know in the rest of the country generally you can meet in a pub and you can book a table.
“I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure they can find out the answer to that question.
Pressed on how people are meant to keep up to date with the latest restrictions when ministers cannot, she said: “I’m sorry I can’t answer that question. I’m sure there are many people who could. I don’t represent the North East.”
It comes amid wider fury about the government bringing in new criminal laws around coronavirus with no prior approval before MPs – or even bothering to tell them about it.
It is now illegal to force your enemies into isolation by pretending you went to the pub with them.
You’ll get a £4,000 fine on a first offence for “recklessly” leaving isolation. You can be fined for hiding your family from Test and Trace, failing to keep your teenager in their bedroom, or even failing to tell your boss why you’re at home.
Asked if people would just start drinking earlier due to the 10pm pub curfew, she replied: “In which case the pubs will still make some money, I guess.”
But not even North East council leaders were consulted beforehand about the change in their area – which one chief branded “chaotic”.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It was announced in the House of Commons and we were not told beforehand that announcement was going to be made.
“However, we had had discussions last week that led us to believe that this was going to happen. We just weren’t pre-warned that it was actually going to happen. It didn’t help.
“I got inundated with telephone calls and emails last night from people asking, ‘Can we do this, can we do that?’ and actually I didn’t have the precise wording of the regulations in front of us.
“So it is a bit chaotic the way these things happen, Nick (Forbes, Newcastle City Council leader) was quite right to be annoyed about that.”
Mr Forbes added: “While we have been in discussions with the Government on potential further restrictions the Secretary of State has once again stood up and announced changes without telling us he was about to do so.
“We want to work constructively with the government but the way these measures are being communicated in headlines and without detail does nothing for public confidence.
“We have demanded clarity on the new restrictions, testing and support for those businesses most affected.”
News – Tory minister doesn’t know pub ban detail in car crash coronavirus interview