Did Rishi Sunak break the rules at pizza restaurant?
Tier two coronavirus rules have been thrown into confusion after Chancellor Rishi Sunak was pictured with a colleague at a restaurant in London.
Members of different households are banned from mixing in indoor hospitality settings in the capital, and office staff are urged to work from home where possible.
But questions have been raised about the restrictions after the Treasury issued a press release featuring photos of Mr Sunak and communities secretary Robert Jenrick at a branch of pizza chain Franco Manca in south London.
They were sat around a table with representatives of hospitality businesses, leading some to suggest they had broken the rules.
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People are allowed to hold ‘business meetings’ in hospitality settings with up to 30 people from other households, but that exemption was provided for freelancers and the self-employed who don’t have office space to work in, according to the prime minister’s own spokesperson.
He said: ‘In the guidance, there is an exemption for work meetings to take place in hospitality settings.
‘Our intention when providing that exemption had been to provide the opportunity for freelancers, or for the self-employed, who didn’t have an office space which they could work in to use hospitality if necessary. That remains the case.
‘But, more broadly, I think what we would ask people to do is, wherever possible, to hold meetings remotely via phone or via video conference.’
Sunak and Jenrick work full time as ministers and have their own offices.
Nonetheless a Treasury spokesperson denied that the pair had broken the rules, saying the restaurant was not in use when the image was taken.
A statement said: ‘The restaurant was not a functioning restaurant at the time. There were no customers in the restaurant at the time and it was all Covid-secure including face masks worn and social distanced.’
The meeting took place at 8am, well before the restaurant was due to open. Attendees were pictured seated apart from one another around long tables, with pastries and water.
It came ahead of the Chancellor’s announcement on extended support for businesses hit by tier two restrictions.
But the explanation did not impress critics, including the Lib Dems’ economy spokesperson Christine Jardine, who accused Mr Sunak of ‘failing to show leadership’ and ‘confusing the issue about the Government’s own guidelines’.
Meanwhile Sky news presenter Kay Burley pointed out that the housing minister appeared on the show earlier in the week to say the so-called ‘working lunch loophole’ should be tightened.
Defending his colleague, Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said the Chancellor’s actions were withing the guidelines which allow business meetings in hospitality venues.
He then ventured off-topic to explain the new financial support scheme in place for pubs and restaurants that might see demand fall due to the ban on households mixing in tier two areas.
The Chancellor on Thursday announced that firms in the second tier of controls will be eligible for grants of £2,100, which can be backdated to August.
However not all businesses have been quick to thank him amid a row over free school meals.
The Chancellor has been banned from a pub in his own constituency after voting down a Labour motion calling for the free school meals scheme to be extended over the half-term and Christmas holidays until Easter 2021.
Throwing its weight behind a campaign led by Manchester United star Marcus Rashford, the opposition party said this would help feed 1.4 million disadvantaged children in England by providing families with £15-a-week food vouchers outside of term time.
But the motion was heavily defeated on Wednesday, with just five Tory Mps rebelling against the party.
The Mill in Stokesley, Yorkshire, is one of hundreds of restaurants across the country that have offered to step in and plug the gaps in the scheme.
But it went one step further than most in barring local Tory MPs Matt Vickers, Simon Clarke, Jacob Young and Rishi Sunak – who constituency covers the area- from visiting ‘for life’.
In a Facebook post the pub condemned their position as ‘disgusting’.
It added: ‘All four are now barred from The Mill and Il Mulino for life.
‘I don’t want their business. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week I will deliver 100 freshly cooked healthy meals to three separate food banks in the Middlesbrough area.’
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