Government left with Scotch egg on its face over ‘substantial meal’ confusion

Michael Gove said a Scotch egg would count as a ‘substantial meal’ under England’s Tier 2 restrictions, having previously said it was a starter.

Pub rules
Pub rules

A senior Cabinet minister has clarified that a Scotch egg would count as a “substantial meal” after a farcical 24 hours for the Government.

Michael Gove’s comments came after he had previously contradicted Cabinet colleague George Eustice over the status of the egg and sausage meat combination.

The definition matters because under the Tier 2 restrictions affecting the majority of England’s population from Wednesday, pubs can only serve alcohol to customers consuming a substantial meal – something that would normally be considered a main course.

Landlords could face hefty fines for failing to comply with the rules, but ministers and Downing Street have caused confusion over the breadcrumb-coated egg.

On Monday morning, Environment Secretary Mr Eustice said a Scotch egg “probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service” – something which is mandatory in pubs under the coronavirus rules.

But on Tuesday morning, Mr Gove told ITV’s Good Morning Britain it was “probably a starter”.

He told LBC “a couple of scotch eggs is a starter, as far as I’m concerned”.

But he later told ITV News: “A Scotch egg is a substantial meal.”

He added: “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.”

Scotch Eggs
The classic savoury treat (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Mr Gove said 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, but he could not say what it constituted.

“They (pubs) already do know what the rules are and they have for years now,” he said.

“My own preference when it comes to a substantial meal might be more than just a Scotch egg, but that’s because I’m a hearty trencherman.

“The Government is relying on people’s common sense.”

More than 57% of England’s population will be in Tier 2 restrictions, imposing severe limits on the ability of pubs to operate.

In the harsher Tier 3, affecting more than 41% of the population, pubs and restaurants can only operate on a takeaway or delivery basis.

Businesses run the risk of £10,000 fines or even closure for failing to comply with coronavirus regulations.

Downing Street insisted that the concept of a “substantial meal” is well understood in the hospitality industry, without saying whether that includes a Scotch egg.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman refused to spell out the difference between a “bar snack” and a meal.

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.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “It’s outrageous you can have a pint in a theatre, concert hall, cinema or sports ground without a substantial meal, but not the pub.

“It is a slap in the face of pubs and brewers.

“As an industry on its knees, fighting to survive, we have invested over £500 million to make our pubs Covid-secure, followed all the guidance and pioneered NHS Track & Trace.

“These new regulations now make a mockery of the great lengths we have gone to in making our pubs safe.”

The industry also called reports of Government handouts worth about £1,000 for pubs unable to trade “nowhere near enough” to stave off thousands of closures.

Analysis by real estate adviser Altus Group indicated that 20,813 pubs will be in England’s Tier 2 from Wednesday.

Some 16,010 will be in Tier 3, banned from opening except for takeaway and delivery services.

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