A seven-mile bike ride may sometimes be local and sometimes not under the current lockdown regulations, the government’s policing minister has said.
Kit Malthouse’s comments came after prime minister Boris Johnson was accused of taking a “do as I say not as I do” approach to the restrictions when he was spotted cycling in the Olympic Park in Stratford, seven miles from Downing Street.
Mr Malthouse said Boris Johnson‘s bike ride to east London was within the rules, which say people can exercise but must do so in their local area.
But he said this may not always be the case, adding: “It depends where you are. Seven miles will be local in different areas and at different times.”
Downing Street again refused to say today whether Mr Johnson had cycled to Stratford or been driven there by security officers.
But they appeared to hint that the PM had made the trip to the park by car, stressing that local exercise did not necessarily mean starting from your front door.
The PM’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said the furore would not make Mr Johnson give up his cycle rides, telling reporters: “He will be doing bike rides again – you all know how much he loves his bike.
“We all should be exercising once a day. We all have to make personal judgments about whether what we are doing is within the guidelines and in this case, the prime minister acted in accordance with the guidelines.”
Coronavirus rules do not specify a distance a person can travel for exercise; guidelines suggest it should be “local”.
But recent days have seen heavy-handed enforcement of the rule by some police forces and questions about how guideline should be interpreted.
In one high-profile case two women were given £200 fines by Derbyshire Police for going for a walk at a remote beauty spot five miles from their home, having driving in separate cars.
Mr Malthouse’s boss Home Secretary Priti Patel stood behind police forces at the weekend, stating that officers should “not hesitate to take action when necessary”.
But the policing minister appeared to show more pragmatism about the letter of the law when it came to Mr Johnson’s own excursion – which also does not appear to breach guidelines.
The minister told Times Radio: “What we are hoping for is that most people will recognise that local, while it’s open to personal interpretation, does have some implications, ie can you get there under your own steam?”
“We are trying to strike a balance between maintaining compliance with the rules and elements of public consent to what’s happening.
He added: “I think most people would think that was reasonable. Where there are unreasonable people who are breaking that rule, police are intervening.”
Legal experts suggested it was unlikely Mr Johnson had breached either the law or guidelines. Human rights lawyer Adam Wagner said: “I think the bike ride is entirely lawful and since the guidelines don’t define local, very arguably within them too.”
Speaking on Tuesday morning, Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan police commissioner, said the government should “certainly” consider clarifying the rules.
“Anything that brings greater clarity for officers and the public in general will be a good thing,” she said.
She said a “reasonable interpretation” of local was being able to “go for your exercise from your front door and come back to your front door”.
But she accepted that for example, “some people will need to get in a car to get over three dual carriageways to get to where they’re going to walk dog”.
A Downing Street spokesman seized upon her remarks, adding: “Different people have their own individual circumstances in terms of proximity to outdoor spaces, which is why we have asked them to exercise judgement.”
A journey from Mr Johnson’s home on Downing Street to the Stratford Olympic park by bike would take around 40 minutes to an hour, depending on how direct the route taken was
It comes as the government mulls tightening coronavirus measures, as the death rate continues to climb.