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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Pippa Fowles DPA/PA Images Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
# mixed messaging
'Shambolic': Confusion reigns on UK restrictions as Raab says people should only return to work from Wednesday
Business groups and trade unions had criticised Boris Johnson after it appeared he suggested a return to work today.

THE BRITISH FOREIGN Secretary Dominic Raab has said that people should only go back to work from Wednesday, despite many inferring from Boris Johnson’s speech last night that he was encouraging people to return to work today if they couldn’t work from home. 

In a further divergence from what was said by Johnson last night, Raab told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme this morning that someone could meet both their parents in a park while maintaining social distancing. Last night, the Prime Minister didn’t indicate that meeting people outside your home would be included in the easing of restrictions.

Johnson last night said that his government would be publishing guidelines today on how restrictions would be lifted. 

On the issue of returning to work, he said: “And the first step is a change of emphasis that we hope that people will act on this week.

We said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must. We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.
And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited. So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home. And to ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces Covid-secure. And when you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But just as with workplaces, public transport operators will also be following Covid-secure standards.

In the next sentence, Johnson said: “And from Wednesday, we want to encourage people to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise.”

Business groups and trade unions had been critical of the prime minister for appearing to suggest at 7pm on a Sunday night that people should return to work on Monday morning. 

London chamber of commerce chief executive Richard Burge said last night: “Having heard the prime minister this evening, my strong and unequivocal advice to London businesses is not to change your plans for [today]. You have not been given sufficient information on how to get your employees safely to work, nor how to keep them safe while they are there.”

Last night, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “People cannot get to work safely unless there is safe transport for them to use. Yet there is now a real risk that in a few hours’ time, workers will be cramming onto public transport, putting at risk their lives and those of others.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the announcement lacked “clarity and consensus”, while “effectively telling millions of people to go back to work tomorrow” without clear guidelines.

However, this morning Dominic Raab said that the direction to go back to work if you were unable to do so from home only takes effect from Wednesday.

“We’re saying to them, they should now from Wednesday, go back to work,” he said, adding that guidance would be forthcoming for individuals and businesses today and tomorrow. 

He said the government had done the “preparatory work” and would provide a “lead-in time” for the “modest changes” to take effect.

Former Labour leader and shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said today that clarity was essential and that the lack of it on whether people should now go to work is “shambolic”.

Raab was also asked about meeting parents under the new guidance, as previous guidance urged people to stay at home and avoid meeting others.

He was specifically asked if you could meet both parents at the same time. He replied: “Well you could if you were two metres apart.”

This also appears to contradict what Johnson said last night. The prime minister said: “You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports, but only with members of your own household.”

The foreign secretary also indicated today that pubs and restaurants could open in July, also contrary to previous advice from the British government.

Boris Johnson is due to address the House of Commons this afternoon and face questions from the opposition afterwards.

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