Scotch egg starter? Ministers make 'substantial meal' of coronavirus pub rules

1 December 2020, 08:17 | Updated: 1 December 2020, 12:37

Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Mixed messaging over post-lockdown rules for pubs has left ministers with Scotch egg on their face and the public confused about what counts as a 'substantial meal'.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove today joked on LBC that he might enjoy a couple of Scotch eggs "with pickle on the side" as a starter but later told ITV that it does in fact count as a substantial meal.

"I myself would definitely scoff a couple of Scotch eggs if I had the chance, but I do recognise that it is a substantial meal," he said.

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It follows environment secretary George Eustice's comments to LBC yesterday which suggested a Scotch egg was in fact a substantial meal, and last month's claim from communities secretary Robert Jenrick that a Cornish pasty with a side dish was enough for a pub in Tier 2 to legally stay open.

Mr Gove said there was a "well-understood definition of what a substantial meal is" but the Government has said it will not release guidance on what foods constitute a main dish.

The concept of the substantial meal had existed in law for many years, allowing families to buy 16-year-olds an alcoholic drink with food.

Michael Gove joked with Nick Ferrari that Scotch are only a starter
Michael Gove joked with Nick Ferrari that Scotch are only a starter. Picture: LBC/PA Images

Downing Street yesterday did not rule out drinkers being able to order a Scotch egg with their pints in order to still enjoy pubs under Tier 2 restrictions in England.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters that buying alcohol will be permitted with a "substantial meal" but would not set out the line between a snack and a dinner.

"It's a principle that's well established in the hospitality industry and it's something they've been applying for some time," he said.

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"We introduced the rule that you can only provide alcohol along with a substantial meal along with the first set of tiering. That remains the case under this set of tiering.

Pressed on whether the rules permit pints being served alongside sausage rolls, pork pies, or a ploughman's lunch, he said: "I'm obviously not going to get into the detail of every possible meal.

"But we've been clear: bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal but it's well-established practice in the hospitality industry what does."

The PM is facing a significant backlash from his own MPs over the new three-tier restrictions in a vote later today.

Dozens of Conservative backbenchers have expressed concerns that these measures could do more harm than good - and are upset about how areas have been allocated tiers.

In a bid to stave off the revolt, Boris Johnson wrote to Conservative MPs on Saturday offering a February 3 "sunset" - or expiry date - for the three-tier strategy.

Read more: Gove defends Tier plans as PM faces crunch Commons vote

The plans are increasingly unlikely to get support from opposition parties, with Labour on Monday evening confirming they would abstain.

On Tuesday morning Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey tweeted that his MPs will not be for the "arbitrary, confusing and chaotic tier system" later that day.

"If Johnson wants our support he needs to work with local authorities to build a system which keeps people safe, and builds back public trust in the Covid guidelines," he added.

Read more: Michael Gove tells LBC Tier 2 restrictions in London are 'justified'

Mr Gove insisted the new Covid tier system in England is vital to stop the NHS being overwhelmed ahead of a crunch Commons vote on the measures later.

He told LBC England's new tiers of Covid restrictions are necessary to stop the virus "running riot" over the winter.