The government has exempted grouse shooting and hunting from new coronavirus restrictions, as a sweeping ban comes in on meeting in groups of more than six.
Groups of up to 30 hunters and shooters are specifically allowed under the restrictions, which also have exemptions for other “licensed outdoor activities”.
The Independent understands that some Tory MPs are angry about the exemption, regarding it as a mis-step.
Guidance on the rules, published by Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that “shooting including hunting and paintball that requires a shotgun or firearms certificate licence” counts as a “sport or organised outdoor activity”.
The Huffington Post website reports that Michael Gove was set to chair a meeting of the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 operations committee this weekend, with an item on the agenda titled “Exemption: hunting and shooting”.
That meeting was however abruptly cancelled hours before it was due to take place, with ministers and officials told the issue would be discussed later via ministerial correspondence.
Some insiders reportedly believe that the meeting was cancelled to avoid objections being raised. The regulations themselves were published on the government website just 20 minutes before they came into force – a delay some prominent lawyers said represented a new record.
Former minister Tracy Crouch told the website that the move amounted to “topsy-turvy prioritisation” when MPs were having to deal with queries about “choirs, community bands, and addiction therapy groups”.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard added: “Across the country, people are struggling to get COVID-19 tests anywhere near their homes.
“But the Conservatives are distracted with trying to exempt the bloodsport passions of their big donors from coronavirus regulations. It shows where this government’s priorities really lie.
“It is clear there’s one rule for the cabinet and their mates and another for the rest of us.”