Police chief accuses Boris Johnson of rushing out lockdown announcement to distract public

Prime Minister Boris Johnson smiles during a media briefing in Downing Street, London. Photograph: P

Prime Minister Boris Johnson smiles during a media briefing in Downing Street, London. Photograph: PA Video/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

A police and crime commissioner has claimed the prime minister's announcement over new measures to ease the lockdown looks like it was 'rushed forward to help ministers in a difficult position'.

Boris Johnson used his latest Downing Street appearance to state that six people can meet up outdoors from Monday, but that the socially-distanced, meet-ups remain prohibited in England until after the weekend.

But with temperatures expected to soar to 26C there are fears it will result in a difficult couple of days for authorities.

Northumbria's Labour Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said: 'One of the hallmarks of the government's handling of this deadly pandemic has sadly been a series of mistimed and badly explained messages.

'By pre-announcing changes to lockdown ahead of a tempting weekend of sunshine, the PM must have known he was going to create a situation that is difficult to police.

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'The messaging looks like it was rushed forward to help ministers in a difficult position.

'When our country eventually gets through this and the inevitable inquiry into the government's handling takes place, the communications plan, or the lack of, will have to be part of that.

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'My message to people is to follow the latest guidelines, avoid large groups and be patient as we seek to reduce the R number and slow the spread of this deadly virus.'

Labour councillor Ian Gilbert, from Southend on Sea Borough Council in Essex, said the timings of a number of government announcements 'haven't been helpful'.

Asked if he thinks Johnson should have waited until Sunday to announce changes to the rules on Monday, Gilbert told the PA news agency: 'Yes. I think, from our point of view, in terms of managing public spaces, absolutely.

'Unfortunately I think the whole way that the debate has gone over the past week, with the business about (Number 10 aide Dominic) Cummings and what have you, has all unfortunately contributed to a general sense that lockdown is over.'

The prime minister's official spokesman said: 'We've said that wherever possible we would give a period of notice in advance of changes being made, ideally 48 hours or more, which is true in this respect.

'The current regulations are in force until Monday.'

Downing Street said police do not have the powers to enter gardens to check on the six-person rule under coronavirus legislation.

The PM's official spokesman added: 'I'm sure that members of the public will show common sense and will want to abide by the rules, police will have the power to enforce the regulations using the proportional and pragmatic approach they've taken so far.'

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