Boris Johnson urged to come clean on bike trip as confusion reigns over lockdown exercise rules

Published: 12 January 2021

Post Desk : Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said the Prime Minister had not broken the law by exercising so far from his home but admitted the rules were not clear to the public, and even to some of her own officers. Official government guidance on exercise says it should be limited to once a day and “you should not travel outside your local area”.

Number 10 officials have refused to answer the Standard’s questions about whether Mr Johnson cycled to the park from Downing Street or was driven there.

During a briefing with political journalists, his spokesman was also unable to answer questions about why Mr Johnson thought his bike ride was consistent with the spirit of the rules.

The Prime Minister was also spotted last Thursday being driven into Buckingham Palace’s grounds where he has been allowed to exercise by the Queen since around last May. Dame Cressida said her view of “local” was going for exercise straight from your front door and back again, where possible. She also called for the rules to be made clearer.

Meanwhile, a Government minister admitted it was “a Scotch egg moment”, referring to the furore in which ministers contradicted each other over what constituted a pub “substantial meal”.

It comes after two women were fined £200 each when they drove five miles for a walk in Derbyshire, a move backed by ministers. The local police force has since quashed the fines and apologised to the women.

Dame Cressida told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there was no exact definition of what “stay local” meant, describing it as a “relative term”.

Asked if Londoners who go outside their local authority area were breaking the rules, the Commissioner replied: “I would just say that people need to try to stay local.

“For me, a reasonable interpretation of that is… go for your exercise from your front door and come back to your front door. That’s my view of local.

“But some people will need to get in a car to get over three dual carriageways to get to where they’re going to walk the dog. It is complicated. I understand that. But everybody needs to try to do their best. It’s a health crisis.”

Asked about the Prime Minister’s bike ride, she said: “I’m not going to comment on individual cases. I’m really not.” Pressed that the Prime Minister is a role model, she said: “The public are looking to all of us as role models, for all of us in public life, if you like.
“What I can say is that it is not against the law. I think that’s implicit in what I said before. It is not against the law. That’s for sure.”

Asked if the law and guidance needed to be clarified, she said: “That is certainly something that government could consider. Absolutely.”

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said the Prime Minister was taking his daily exercise when he was spotted and insisted he was within the rules.

Pressed on BBC Breakfast whether seven miles away was “local”, the minister replied: “It depends where you are. Obviously seven miles will be local in different areas and in different times.”

He said the key thing was people to maintain social distancing, adding: “I understand that this is a sort of Scotch egg moment where people are searching for the loopholes and the problems in the law. Unfortunately we can’t legislate for every single dynamic of human existence.”

On Sky News, Mr Malthouse also admitted that “local” was open to interpretation, adding “but people broadly know what local means”.

“If you can get there under your own steam and you are not interacting with somebody… then that seems perfectly reasonable to me.”

Labour MP Lyn Brown, whose constituency the Premier was cycling through, said the trip was “misjudged”. The West Ham MP told the Standard: “The British public rightly expect the Prime Minister to lead by example.

“With rates in London and our borough so high, and other parks so close to his front door, this trip was misjudged. Boris Johnson is asking everyone to stay local. He needs to follow his own advice.”

Lib Dem health spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said: “The reason this has become a big issue is not because the Prime Minister broke the rules, it is because the government has failed to say what the rules actually are. The only way this lockdown will work is if the government fulfil their obligation to make the rules clear and simple to follow.”

It comes amid confusion over whether or not the public can sit on benches when they go out for their daily exercise.

The vaccinations minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Monday people must not sit on park benches to chat with friends, however the Prime Minister’s official spokesman appeared unable to say what was allowed and not allowed.

A government source later clarified that a “short pause” during the course of exercise would be reasonable but it would be unlawful to leave the house just to sit in public.

A Number 10 source said: “The Prime Minister follows Covid rules closely to try to limit the spread of the virus.”

Dame Cressida, when asked about powers of entry to break up house parties, told the BBC: “We don’t have the power of entry. From my point of view, I think we can deal with most of these things without that power.

“And, secondly, I don’t think the general public want to know, or fear, that the police are going to come barging through their door for what might, potentially, be a misunderstanding, or a very minor infringement.”

Officers swooped on a group of 30 anti-lockdown protesters at Clapham Common on Saturday. Sixteen people were arrested and 22 fined. In another breach, a Hackney gym owner was given a £1,000 fixed penalty notice for offering lockdown workouts.