Oliver Dowden has struggled to name the exact science Boris Johnson used to develop his 10pm curfew on the hospitality sector during a live interview on national television.
Dowden, the culture secretary, insisted the government had used a study from US that proved hospitality settings were a breeding ground for Covid-19 as he downplayed concerns over a legal challenge from business leaders in the North.
Appearing on Sky News, the former special adviser to David Cameron said: “There is science on this naturally and the government’s chief scientific adviser has run through a number of the key points.”
Dowden said the virus is more likely to spread in enclosed settings where people are not required to wear masks and pointed to eating and drinking as an example.
Presenter Kay Burley chimed in: “So, why don’t the figures reflect that? 33 instances out of 782, according to Public Health England, were related to food outlets and restaurants.”
The minister responded: “Well, there is other evidence in the United States which shows there is quite a high risk associated with hospitality settings.”
Burley began talking over the minister: “Tell me about, because, you’re about to get sued. Apparently business leaders in the North have said: ‘you know what, that’s enough’ and are now mounting a legal challenge against the government’s lockdown restrictions.
“So, tell me what these rules are in the US and what they’ll mean.”
Dowden said the government had “robust evidence” from an academic study in the US proving the need for a curfew but when pressed to provide it, the minister responded: “Well, the evidence says there is a higher chance of transmission in hospitality settings.”
“Whose evidence? Be more precise,” Burley pressed.
“I’m happier to share the greater details with you but I don’t have them to hand now,” Dowden said.
“So, you don’t know,” the presenter shot back.
A increasingly irritated Dowden said: “No, we have academic evidence from the United States. I’m afraid I don’t have the name of the study to hand.”
Sarah Rosemary tweeted: “Shocking clip. Again, a minister is set for a media round without knowing a single detail about the US evidence he’s been told to use as justification.”
Philip Read pointed out: “Seems strange to quote some mysterious study in the US when we are talking about the UK. When you go into a pub you sign in via the track and trace system. Would be handy if it was any good of course.”