Tory minister denies Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out scheme was a 'disaster' that helped spread Covid-19

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who has admitted it will be a "challenge" to get Theresa May's dea

Stephen Barclay said Eat Out to Help Out had helped reinstate consumer confidence - Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

A Tory minister has come under fire after publicly stating Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) programme was a "success", despite claims linking the scheme with increased coronavirus rates.

Chief secretary to the Treasury, Stephen Barclay, dismissed the accusation that EOTHO had been a public health disaster which helped the spread of Covid-19.

Under the scheme, Britons were encouraged to "Eat In" at a restaurant to claim a 50% discount on meals of up to £10.

The programme ran from August 3 to August 31 and saw more than 100 million meals served.

Despite the economic success, critics claim the scheme boosted infection rates which to a second wave of the virus.

On the eve of London entering a Tier 3 lockdown, Barclay was asked if the initiative had been a disaster.

"I think that it was a different time," he told LBC radio.

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Host Nick Ferrari interjected: "So, Eat Out to Help Out was a success?"

The minister attempted to suggest people eating outdoors were following the rules but was quickly stopped by Ferrari, who said the scheme allowed people to eat inside and recounted footage of Sunak serving pizzas in a restaurant.

Asked if it had in fact been a success, Barclay responded: "Well, I think it responded to one of the pressures the industry had at that time to get confidence back -"

Ferrari cut in laughing: "One minute you're paying the meal bill, the next you're shutting the restaurant.

"Is Lewis Carroll writing policy up there?"

Barclay replied: "Well, I think the infection rate was at a different point. We were trying to get consumer confidence back after the summer when the infection rate was much lower in order to get cash flow back into those businesses."

"There's no confidence in the trade now, Mr Barclay," Ferrari exclaimed. "People are closing their pubs for the last time today." 

Taking to Twitter, one user wrote: "They just won’t admit they made a mistake with the ‘Eat out to help out’. The public would have more respect if they did."

Another countered: "The virus started spreading again because it is seasonal. The second wave came more than 2 weeks following the end of EOTHO. EOTHO saved so many in the hospitality industry."

A third added: "I think everything just opened up too quickly, the system they were using then just seemed to disappear mid way. Encouraged to get out and do whatever, as if the virus had gone away. Hence we are where we are today. I am only saying."

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