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Alok Sharma was left floundering when he was asked about new lockdown rules in Bolton, one of the country’s worst-hit coronavirus hotspots, during a chat with presenter Rachel Burden. Asked “how many households can meet in a pub in Bolton?”, the Cabinet minister began by dodging the question and instead sought to focus on wider rules across England.
When he was pressed to provide a straight answer, he hit out at the “gotcha” style questioning.
He said: “Perhaps I could ask by telling you what the national rules are in England…”
She butted in: “Why don’t you just start by answering the question?”
He replied: “Well because I think it’s really important that I put this in the context of what the rules are nationally. If you would allow me? And I’ll come back to the point of the lockdown.”
Ms Burden said she wanted him to answer the question so that he could not have someone “run off and look it up” while he spoke about other rules.
Mr Sharma said “what you are starting with is this sort of gotcha question” before he advised people in Bolton to look at the gov.uk website to read up on their local rules.
Ms Kuenssberg took to Twitter to back up her BBC colleague’s interviewing technique.
She tweeted: “Not sure it really flies to say it’s a ‘gotcha’ question to expect govt ministers to know what the rules are that they are asking millions of people to follow.”
Mr Sharma also accused the BBC’s Today programme of firing “gotcha” questions at Boris Johnson on a similar issue.
He defended the Prime Minister inability to explain the rules yesterday, pointing to his rapid clarification and apology.
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But pressed repeatedly over why the public should be expected to understand rules that ministers did not, Mr Sharma took aim at the presenter’s interviewing style.
He said: “There is an element of slight gotcha about this.
“This is a flagship programme, not a quiz show.”
He added: “The overall message is the rule of six… wash your hands, cover your face: people understand that
“The issues come in terms of my local restrictions… and the best way to find out is to go on the website and find out.”
Mr Sharma said news interviews should not be used as a “quiz show”.
But Labour said it was an issue of “basic Government competence” to know the rules put in place by ministers.
On Tuesday Mr Johnson took to Twitter to apologise for his gaffe in response to questions about the rules in north-east England, where households have been banned from mixing.
He swiftly issued a correction with details about the North East restrictions and said: “Apologies, I misspoke today.”
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