Business secretary Alok Sharma has accused the media of using “gotcha” style questions after Boris Johnson was unable to answer a question about his government’s lockdown rules on Tuesday.
Sharma said reporters were using interviews as a “quiz show”, the day after both the prime minister and skills minister Gillian Keegan came under fire for not knowing the detail of new measures for north-east England, which came into force at midnight.
Johnson apologised after the gaffe and swiftly issued a correction with details about the restrictions.
Watch: Boris Johnson gets new coronavirus rules wrong
When questioned over the measures on Wednesday, Sharma went on the attack, telling the BBC: “There is an element of slightly ‘gotcha’ about this in terms of this line of questioning. You are a flagship programme when it comes to serious news and it is not a quiz show.”
Asked whether he thought that calling on ministers to explain what their coronavirus regulations were was as “trivial as a quiz question”, he rowed back and said: “No, absolutely not.
“But what I’m saying to you is that what is important is if people want to understand the precise restrictions that they have in areas which are more restricted, then they should go on to the (government and council) websites.
“I’ve set out clearly to you, I hope, what the overall message is – which is this rule of six indoors and outdoors, wash your hands, cover your face, make sure you maintain social distancing – and I think people understand that.”
Responding to Sharma’s comments, shadow public health minister Alex Norris said the PM “should understand the rules he is asking huge numbers of people to follow”.
He added: “That’s not a gotcha, that’s just basic government competence.”
Senior media figures also fired back at Sharma’s comments, which Daily Mail political editor Jason Groves described as “pathetic”.
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg 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.”
Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson added: “Believe it or not we ask questions to get the answers not to prove that politicians don’t know them.”
I don’t think the producers of Pointless will be too worried about the competition. Believe it or not we ask questions to get the answers not to prove that politicians don’t know them https://t.co/5k2b9BIXJz— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) September 30, 2020
Business Sec Alok Sharma accuses media of 'gotcha' journalism for asking ministers the details of Covid laws they are imposing on people. Pathetic— Jason Groves (@JasonGroves1) September 30, 2020
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— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) September 30, 2020
Alok Sharma suggesting on Radio 4 that ministers being asked about details of Covid restrictions is like a "quiz show" - not a good look— Emily Ashton (@elashton) September 30, 2020
Alok Sharma has said asking Boris Johnson to know the regulations in the North East was "one of those 'gotcha' questions".— Dan Bloom (@danbloom1) September 30, 2020
Try using that excuse with police who are issuing you with a fine!
Tougher restrictions banning people from mixing with other households in any setting have been introduced in large parts of north-east England due to a continued sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
Existing measures – for Northumberland, Newcastle, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham – are being tightened at the request of local councils because the virus is still spreading, health secretary Matt Hancock said.
It had been illegal for two households to mix inside or in a garden, but it was only guidance that they should not meet at public venues, including restaurants and pubs.
The measures came into force at midnight and will be enforceable with fines, the Department for Health and Social Care said.
Watch: £10,000 fines for refusing to self-isolate
Coronavirus: what happened today