8 min read
As the second lockdown ends and England enters the new tier system of coronavirus restrictions, the government has found itself embroiled in a bizarre row about scotch eggs and whether they constitute a “substantial meal”.
That is not a sentence anyone would have expected to have read this time last year, but for pub landlords and bar owners struggling to stay afloat amid the pandemic it is serious business.
The rules, which are due to come into force on Thursday, say that any hospitality venue placed into Tier 2, which will cover 57.3% of the country, can only serve alcohol if it is alongside “substantial meals”.
But just what that entails has become a massive source of contention, which despite Number 10’s repeated assertions that it has made it clear, continues to cause confusion.
The Question Of Cornish Pasties
If all this sounds familiar, then that is because it was first raised as an issue when the previous tier system was introduced earlier this autumn.
The communities secretary Robert Jenrick suggested a Cornish pasty would not count as a substantial meal unless it was served with chips and a side salad.
“If you would expect to go into that restaurant normally, or pub, and order a plated meal at the table of a Cornish pasty with chips or side salad or whatever it comes with, then that’s a normal meal,” the minister said.
That did not clarify things entirely, but as the country soon went back into lockdown and hospitality was closed altogether the matter drifted out of the discourse.
The reason it matters though is that many pubs in tier 2, of which there are more than 20,000, cannot simply re-tool as full restaurants, and unless they can serve full meals they will have to remain closed in the crucial pre-Christmas period and potentially much beyond that.
They therefore need to know with a great deal more clarity than there has been so far on what they can serve to customers and fulfil the requirements in the regulations and remain in operation.
Can’t stop thinking about will from the inbetweeners ordering a substantial meal to get his pint in the pub with his mates😂 now it’s becoming a reality
— Dani Dyer (@Dani_MasDyer) December 1, 2020
And crucially without that clarity it puts the onus on local councils and the police in each area to decide what constitutes a full meal, meaning a pub on one street in one borough might get away with serving a scotch egg, while one street over into a different borough another pub might face a fine for doing the same.
This exact issue played out in Manchester back in October, when pubs were forced to serve a substantial meal with alcohol when the city was placed in the old tier 3.
Staff at Common bar say police told them serving single slices from a 22-inch pizza didn’t count, only to later backtrack and deem that it was sufficient to be a full meal.
It’s co-owner Jonny Heyes said at the time: “It’s just a bit of a joke. I don’t want to say anything bad about the officers because they had obviously been sent round to check everyone was serving food and adhering to the guidelines.
“But they don’t have any information about what actually constitutes a substantial meal. They’re just winging it.
“As far as I can tell there is no proper guidance. The government policy is just so woolly, there’s no clarity.”
So with less than 48 hours until pubs and bars can re-open their doors it has roared back into the news, kicked off by a question to environment secretary George Eustice on Monday morning about the now infamous scotch egg.
“I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service,” he said.
“And often that may be as a starter. But yes, I think it would.”
The Thin Line Between Snack And Dinner
Asked to clarify if that was the case, Downing Street only served to blur the issue by failing to set out the where the line is 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,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said.
“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.”
But so far nobody in government can point to anything in the Licensing Act or any other legislation, either during Covid or pre-pandemic, which defines what exactly is substantial or not.
The Licensing Act 2003 contains a clause which permits 16- or 17-year-olds to consume beer, wine or cider with a table meal if they are accompanied by an adult, infamously depicted in an episode of the TV show The Inbetweeners.
It goes on to define a “table meal” as a “meal eaten by a person seated at a table, or at a counter or other structure which serves the purpose of a table and is not used for the service of refreshments for consumption by persons not seated at a table or structure serving the purpose of a table.”
This is the same definition adopted by Parliamentary Counsel which drafted the tier system, but while the regulations say pubs “remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant – which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal”, there is nothing to say what size “a main lunchtime or evening meal” is.
Pork Pies and Ploughman’s
It led to the PM’s spokesman being pressed on whether the new rules extended to sausage rolls, pork pies, or a ploughman’s lunch counting as a substantial meal, to which 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.”
That sounded rather like Number 10 was coming down on the snack side of the debate, which appeared to be backed up my Michael Gove this morning, who told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “As far as I’m concerned it’s probably a starter.”
Later on LBC he appeared to harden his stance on scotch eggs, the Cabinet Office minister saying: “A couple of scotch eggs is a starter as far as I’m concerned.”
But by the time he spoke to ITV News shortly afterwards Mr Gove appeared to have performed a volte face, he said: “A scotch egg is a substantial meal.”
Pressed on whether it was actually a bar snack, he replied: “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.”
But the issue of whether under law it really is a meal, and crucially, whether a pub can serve it with a pint and not be in breach of the legislation and face racking up thousands of pounds-worth of fines, remains undefined.
And the issue over lots of other things a pub may be able to serve without having to upgrade or instal a kitchen, and all the regulations that entails, is also unclear and seems to be placed in the hands of publicans to make the call themselves and risk falling foul of the law.
Perhaps even more bizarrely, this is far from the first time this particular issue has been raised, with the previously obscure 1965 legal case of Timmis v Millman thrust into the public eye.
That involved the defendant and a friend caught in a hotel bar at 11.30pm consuming light ale and stout outside of permitted drinking hours.
But the-then Lord Chief Justice decided their meal of a “substantial sandwich” served with pickles and beetroot constituted a “table meal”, and not just a “bar snack”, which allowed them to stay within rules which allowed for an extra hour after the end of the ordinary permitted drinking time as long as it was for finishing their supper meal.
And that built on the court ruling in Solomon v Green a decade earlier, where sandwiches and sausages on sticks were found to constitute a meal.
Whether any enterprising landlord will attempt to use such case law to justify serving cocktail sausages on toothpicks to thirsty drinkers remains to be seen, but if they do then the obliqueness of the current rules may work in their favour.
Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump
“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.
The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.
“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”
But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.
On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.
Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.
The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.
Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.
Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.
Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.
A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.
But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.
The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.
Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.
A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.
Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.
The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.
Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.
Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout
5 min read
Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.
It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.
The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.
“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.
In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.
“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.
“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”
Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.
He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same.
“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”
Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.
The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.
But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.
Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”
The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”
The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.
“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided.
“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”
Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.
“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”
The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.
He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.
He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.
“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.
“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.
“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”
Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”
How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers
Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.
The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.
After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.
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