The Guardian

Rules tough enough, in­sists Pa­tel as she backs PM’s ride

- Jes­sica El­got and Ra­jeev Syal Priti Patel · Boris Johnson · United Kingdom · London · Tesco · ASDA Wal-Mart Supercentre · Cheltenham · J Sainsbury · Martin Hewitt

Lock­down rules were “tough enough”, Priti Pa­tel said as she de­fended Boris John­son’s week­end cy­cling trip but added that “egre­gious” rule breaches would face ac­tion.

The home sec­re­tary made her com­ments as the UK recorded its se­cond high­est to­tal of daily re­ported deaths – 1,243 – with Pa­tel com­ing un­der pres­sure to ex­plain why lock­down rules are looser than in March, in­clud­ing those on go­ing out for ex­er­cise.

John­son was crit­i­cised on Mon­day for a week­end cy­cle ride to the Olympic Park in east Lon­don, seven miles from Down­ing Street. No 10 has re­fused to say whether he was driven there.

Yes­ter­day the home sec­re­tary told a Down­ing Street press brief­ing, her first since May, that “stay­ing lo­cal is ab­so­lutely cru­cial”. but added that the pub­lic should be “act­ing in the right way, stay­ing away from other peo­ple, which is clearly what the prime min­is­ter did when he was tak­ing his daily ex­er­cise”.

She said po­lice would move more quickly to is­sue fines as part of an en­force­ment crack­down this week, as the chair of the Na­tional Po­lice Chiefs’ Coun­cil (NPCC) said there were “a stub­born num­ber of peo­ple re­fus­ing to abide by the reg­u­la­tions”.

No 10 has de­cided it will not press on im­mi­nently with any changes to the cur­rent re­stric­tions, de­spite a num­ber of dis­cus­sions on Sun­day and Mon­day about ex­pand­ing mask wear­ing and re­mov­ing the right to ex­er­cise with one per­son out­side their house­hold. “There were ideas kicked around but for now the pri­or­ity is en­force­ment, though of course that is con­stantly re­viewed,” a se­nior source said.

One fo­cus for min­is­ters and of­fi­cials has been en­force­ment in su­per­mar­kets, which have ramped up ef­forts in re­cent days to po­lice mask wear­ing and so­cial dis­tanc­ing. On Tues­day Tesco, Asda and Waitrose joined Mor­risons and Sains­burys say­ing they would strictly en­force masks in store and limit cus­tomer num­bers. Pa­tel prompted fur­ther con­fu­sion about what ex­actly is al­lowed in the cur­rent lock­down by re­fer­ring not to ex­er­cise but “out­door re­cre­ation”, which is pro­scribed un­der govern­ment guide­lines.

She told the brief­ing: “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 and that is ob­vi­ously to go to work only if you can­not work from home ... then, of course, out­door re­cre­ation in a very re­stricted and lim­ited way, stay­ing lo­cal.”

The govern­ment’s web­site states: “You can­not leave home for recre­ational or leisure pur­poses (such as for a pic­nic or a so­cial meet­ing).”

Asked why the rules from March were tougher on so­cial con­tact than the cur­rent curbs, Pa­tel said it was “im­por­tant to re­flect quite frankly on the state that we’re in right now”, adding: “The rules are clear, the rules are firm … the rules are tough enough.”

She de­flected ques­tions on whether the govern­ment should clamp down on em­ploy­ers who were not en­abling home work­ing. “This isn’t about, you know, pick­ing out in­di­vid­ual groups or things of that na­ture,” she said. “We have clear guid­ance for busi­nesses.”

Martin He­witt, the NPCC chair, sug­gested po­lice could not en­force any rules that would put a par­tic­u­lar dis­tance on how far peo­ple can travel from their homes for ex­er­cise.

“There is an ex­emp­tion that al­lows you to ex­er­cise and I think that’s ab­so­lutely right, for peo­ple’s phys­i­cal and men­tal health,” he said.

He ad­mit­ted po­lice had not al­ways got it right. “There have on oc­ca­sions been is­sues where … the of­fi­cer’s de­ci­sion was not the right de­ci­sion,” he said, ac­knowl­edg­ing the case of two Der­byshire women who were fined £200 for driv­ing 5 miles for a walk, and who later had the penal­ties re­scinded.

He­witt said of­fi­cers were putting them­selves at risk to deal with ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing a minibus full of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent house­holds trav­el­ling from Chel­tenham to Wales to go for a walk.

He­witt said there would be a crack­down on those fail­ing to wear masks on pub­lic trans­port and in shops, say­ing peo­ple should “ex­pect a fine” un­less they were ex­empt.

Ear­lier yes­ter­day both the polic­ing min­is­ter, Kit Malt­house, and Boris John­son’s spokes­woman sug­gested it should be com­mon sense to know what “stay­ing lo­cal” meant.

 ?? PHO­TO­GRAPH: LEON NEAL/REUTERS ?? Priti Pa­tel said the rules were ‘very sim­ple’, though she con­tra­dicted the of­fi­cial guide­lines on ‘re­cre­ation’
PHO­TO­GRAPH: LEON NEAL/REUTERS Priti Pa­tel said the rules were ‘very sim­ple’, though she con­tra­dicted the of­fi­cial guide­lines on ‘re­cre­ation’

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