Home secretary Priti Patel has said that “outdoor recreation” is permitted in a “restricted and limited way” – despite it being prohibited during the lockdown.
Moments after insisting the coronavirus rules are “actually very simple and clear”, Patel apparently misspoke during a Downing Street press conference when trying to explain that exercise is permitted.
She was accused of adding to the confusion as leaders of police groups were calling on the government to clarify the “incredibly vague” rules for exercise, which say it should be confined to “your local area” without setting a legal distance.
There has been confusion over the distance people are allowed to travel after prime minister Boris Johnson went for a bike ride seven miles from Downing Street while two women were incorrectly fined for driving five miles from their Derbyshire homes to meet for a walk.
Patel was asked during her first No 10 press conference since May 22 why the regulations were not as tough as during the first lockdown despite the increasingly perilous situation being faced by the NHS.
“The rules are actually very simple and clear,” she replied.
“We are meant to stay at home and only leave home for a very, very limited number of reasons.”
She said these include going to work if you cannot carry out your duties from home and for going to school as the child of a keyworker.
“And then of course outdoor recreation but in a very, very restricted and limited way, staying local – I have said that several times over the last week,” Patel added.
“These are very, very limited reasons for leaving.”
But it was pointed out that Patel’s words on recreation were contrary to the advice on the government’s website.
It states: “It is against the law to meet socially with family or friends unless they are part of your household or support bubble. You cannot leave home for recreational or leisure purposes (such as for a picnic or a social meeting).”
Home Office sources said Patel had been clear throughout the press conference that exercise was permitted when “staying local” and explained her comment on recreation as a slip of the tongue.
One source said: “The home secretary was clearly talking about exercise.”
Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner, who frequently analyses and explains the lockdown regulations, pointed out that “open air recreation” was permitted under the Tier 4 restrictions but this was removed when England entered its third national lockdown this month.
“I get that everyone makes mistakes but ministers really need to be across most basic points – and this is the most basic, particularly given the national discussions over what “exercise” is over recent days. I assume this was a slip but I think the home sec needs to correct it,” he tweeted.
The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said Patel must ensure the guidelines are “crystal clear and understood”.
“The home secretary can insist as often as she likes that government guidelines are ‘actually clear and simple’, they aren’t. In her own press conference, the home secretary added to the confusion by talking about ‘outdoor recreation’ instead of exercise,” the MP added.