Michael Gove has apologised for incorrectly claiming separated couples cannot move children between households, hours after Boris Johnson announced the most severe restrictions on British public life in recent history.
In an effort to tackle the escalating threat of coronavirus in the UK, the prime minister urged individuals to stay at home except for a strictly limited set of reasons in a televised address to the nation on Monday evening.
Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Gove, the cabinet office minister, wrongly insisted that children under the age of 18, whose parents are separated, should remain in the households they are “currently in”.
“We should not have children moving between households. I know this is incredibly difficult, this is an emotionally fraught time and a difficult one,” he said. “Wherever possible if there could be contact through social media, or non-physical contact then that should carry on.”
Family divorce lawyers have previously raised concerns around social distancing measures, with one telling The Independent there was widespread “confusion” about what arrangements between couples might mean.
Clarifying his comments in a second interview on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Gove said: “On another broadcast on Good Morning Britain, I was asked specifically about divorced or separated parents and whether or not children could move from one household to another.
“One of the things that is clear is that if it is the case that children are under the age of 18 need to move from one parent’s home to another parent’s home, that is allowed.
“Within the context of all us seeking to reduce social contact, that is allowed. I was not clear earlier on that broadcast.”
On his Twitter account, the Cabinet Office minister added: “I wasn’t clear enough earlier, apologies. To confirm – while children should not normally be moving between households, we recognise that this may be necessary when children who are under 18 move between separate parents. This is permissible and has been made clear in the guidance.”
Government advice, released on Monday evening after the prime minister’s address, states: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
Elsewhere, Mr Gove said all major constructions would should go ahead, but jobs carried out in close quarters in someone’s home would not be appropriate.
But Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said a lot of construction work was “not critical, or essential”, claiming he had made clear at yesterday meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee that he disagreed with construction work going ahead.
Asked whether construction workers should be heading into sites today, he told ITV: “My view is no, I made that point quite forcibly after yesterday’s Cobra, and I made that point quite clearly to the prime minister. According to the government’s advice, the answer is yes.”
The cabinet minister also said that non-essential shops – such as clothes and toy companies – could continue to work through online deliveries, after being forced to close their high street operations.