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Is Rishi Sunak’s Photo-Op Meeting in a Closed Pizza Restaurant Really That Confusing?

The reaction to the chancellor’s staged Franco Manca chinwag is yet another mark of the infantilising effect of government communication on COVID-19 rules

Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick sit in a closed Franco Manca restaurant during a meeting
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick and chancellor Rishi Sunak inside a closed Franco Manca
Stefan Rousseau/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Coronavirus tier 2 business meeting loopholes don’t really apply to photo-ops

Before announcing a new economic package designed to support restaurants under local coronavirus restrictions, chancellor Rishi Sunak met industry representatives in pizza chain Franco Manca at 8 a.m., with the restaurant closed but for the meeting. The discussion — highly staged, lucratively photo-opped, with participants sitting two metres apart — kicked the current discourse around whether or not business meetings are allowed in restaurants under tier 2 coronavirus restrictions back into rhythm.

Sky News’ Kay Burley asked chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay: “Rishi Sunak met with colleagues inside a pizza restaurant. You’re not allowed to do that under Tier 2 restrictions are you?.” Barclay replied, “You’re allowed to meet in restaurants under the guidance for work meetings.” The clip, shared to Twitter, was met with groans — “change the rules again,”; “one rule for them.” It follows announcements from numerous restaurants that they would welcome guests for “business meetings,” allowing bookings inside from mixed households up to six people. Government guidance allows this if the people in question are freelancers, have no office space, and could not hold the meeting remotely. The Huffington Post headlined its report, “Ministers Add To Confusion Over Covid Rules By Holding Meeting In Franco Manca.”

The government would contend that a staged meeting, in a closed restaurant which does not ordinarily open in the morning at all, with participants seated two metres apart in a specially arranged desk-emulating set-up, isn’t adding to confusion. Rishi Sunak was, as Burley put it, “meeting with colleagues inside a pizza restaurant,” but, he wasn’t really, and Barclay’s reply about guidance didn’t really apply to the situation they were discussing at all. A staged photo-op is not the same as going to a busy restaurant for lunch, and that seems a fairly uncontroversial statement to make. The meeting didn’t, per the Huffington Post, “add to confusion over Covid rules” — the subsequent reporting, and Burley and Barclay’s interview did.

The meeting is not an example of one rule for them, another for the public; it’s not an example of fanning confusion over loopholes. But it is an example of how the government’s continual bungling of COVID-19 communications for restaurants and their guests has created a climate of infantilising discourse and distrust, in which people ask whether they need proof of address at the pub, ministers don’t wear masks to Pret a Manger one day but do the next, local coronavirus restrictions previously meant a shut pub is better off than a closed restaurant on the same street, and using a closed restaurant like a theatre for a performed meeting leads to the public and a national political journalist asking why they can’t go to a restaurant that is open for actual food. [Sky News]

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