The government is set to face huge public backlash after deciding to add hunting and shooting clubs to the ‘Rule of Six’ exemption list.
Prime minister Boris Johnson could have a new rebellion on his hands after it emerged grouse shooting and other ‘hunting’ with guns were exempt from new coronavirus restrictions, the Huffington Post UK has revealed.
A special loophole in the government’s latest regulations allow hunting groups of up to 30 people to meet as long as the gathering remained an ‘outdoor activity’.
Among the list of exemptions published just before midnight on Sunday are the royal family’s Boxing Day pheasant shooting, sport club gatherings, wedding receptions, and even political protests.
They are also allowing activity that involves ‘a gathering taking place outdoors (whether or not in a public outdoor space)’ for the purpose of ‘a physical activity which is carried on outdoors’, where a licence, permit or certificate is held by the organiser.
The Huffington Post UK also learnt that Michael Gove announced a meeting on Saturday to discuss the matter only to cancel several hours beforehand. Ministers were told the issue would be discussed later or via ministerial correspondence.
Insiders told the media outlet the meeting had been scrapped to avoid protests from ministers and that the word ‘outdoor activity’ was inserted into the legal text, paving the way for activities such as grouse hunting to be exempt.
Another source said the issue held up the publication of the regulations until late Sunday night despite them coming into force from Monday.
Brand new government guidance published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Monday lists ‘shooting (including hunting and paintball that requires a shotgun or firearms certificate license)’ as a ‘sport or organised outdoor activity’. Ministers still need to clarify if foxhunting is part of the exemption list.
Former minister Tracey Crouch called the new provision ‘bonkers’.
She said: ‘Many will find this topsy-turvy prioritisation from government.
‘I’ve had queries about choirs, community bands, addiction therapy groups, all of whom would be worthy of an exemption and instead we are scrabbling around prioritising shooting animals. It’s bonkers.’
Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard added: ‘Across the country, people are struggling to get COVID-19 tests anywhere near their homes.
‘But the Conservatives are distracted with trying to exempt the bloodsport passions of their big donors from coronavirus regulations. It shows where this government’s priorities really lie.
‘It is clear there’s one rule for the cabinet and their mates and another for the rest of us.’
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said in a statement: ‘The latest guidance says that there will be exceptions where groups can be larger than six, including work or voluntary services as well as outdoor sport and physical activity events.
‘BASC continues to press ministers for further detail but believes that these exemptions encompass shooting where shoots operate in accordance with Covid secure guidance issued by representative shooting organisations, including BASC.’
The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.
Under the new regulations, groups larger than six people will not be able to meet from Monday, September 14, and those breaking the rules could face a £3,000 fine.