Boris Johnson has famously not always seemed on top of the ever-changing coronavirus lockdown rules, but the prime minister has made perhaps his most basic error so far, by suggesting that new restrictions mean separated parents might not be able to see their children.
Responding to a question at a televised Downing Street press conference on Friday, the prime minister said that while people should check the rules, “alas”, some parents might face restrictions on seeing children.
This is not only incorrect, but has been so throughout Covid restrictions, with children allowed to move between the homes of separated parents even during the peak of lockdown in March.
The question came in a video from a parent called Chris Eldridge in Margate, Kent, which is currently in the lowest of the three-tier system for Covid regulations.
Eldridge’s query was whether he might encounter problems in seeing his son, who lives in Essex, almost all of which will be moved into the middle tier on Friday night.
“You should go on the website, obviously, and check, but when places go into a higher tier from the basic medium, then there are restrictions on household contact, alas,” Johnson said. “So, depending on how you define your household, you may find there are restrictions.”
This is not correct. A briefing by the House of Commons library about the new rules notes that the latest, issued on Wednesday, state that in all three tiers, restrictions of meetings do not apply “for the purposes of arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children where the children do not live in the same household as their parents or one of their parents”.
Eldridge said he was left “shouting at the television” after Johnson failed to answer his question. He said: “I felt he was just pushing it by the wayside, by saying to go on the website.
“I was on the website, I had to go on the website to submit my question. Obviously, I had gone to the website to try and find the answer to my situation. Considering all the steps you go through to submit a question, it would have been a lot easier, a lot quicker, to get my answer if I were to find it on their website.
“Initially I didn’t pick up on the fact he said there might be restrictions. Five minutes later I got forwarded an article that actually gave me the answer I was looking for.”
Eldridge lives apart from his six-year-old son and during the peak of the pandemic, he did not see him for seven weeks, due to fears of putting him at risk.
He said: “It was hard going from seeing him every weekend, but fortunately with a bit of technology I could still speak to him, but that’s not the same thing.”
He added: “I understand that the government aren’t going to be able to provide an answer to everybody’s situation, but you can see that my situation is going to be the sort of thing that’s troubling quite a few people.”
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that there was “an exemption for any kind of childcare for separated parents in all tiers”, adding: “The point the PM made is you need to check the website because you’ll know how you define your household.”
Johnson has struggled on Covid rules several times in the past. Last month he apologised for having “misspoken” after wrongly suggesting that the “rule of six” limit on public gatherings did not apply outdoors in north-east England.