Priti Patel has caused a stir by insisting that stopping for a chat on the street constitutes “mingling” and is thus banned under the new “rule of six” regulations introduced by the Government on Monday.
The Home Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “people coming together”, even briefly on the street, would breach the rule.
The latest updated regulations, introduced in response to a resurgence in coronavirus in recent weeks, simplified existing restrictions by setting a hard limit of six on the number of people who can meet up together in England, regardless of their age or which household they belong to.
The i newsletter cut through the noise
Minister Kit Malthouse yesterday sparked controversy after encouraging people to report their neighbours to the authorities for breaking the rules, dubbed the “rule of snitch” by one commentator. The Home Secretary added her voice to that chorus.
“If I saw something that I thought was inappropriate, then quite frankly I would effectively call the police,” Ms Patel told Sky News in her broadcast round.
“It’s not about dobbing in neighbours, I think it’s all about us taking personal responsibility. If there was a big party taking place, it would be right to call the police.”
But is Ms Patel right to suggest that “mingling” is now banned? Here’s what the regulations say.
Is mingling really banned?
(b) a person participates in a gathering as a member of a qualifying group only if they are part of a qualifying group and, whilst participating in the gathering, they do not
— (i) become a member of any other group of persons participating in the gathering (whether or not that group is a “qualifying group”), or
(ii) otherwise mingle with any person who is participating in the gathering but is not a member of the same qualifying group as them.”;
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2)(England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020
The regulations do refer to the concept of mingling in the update issued to deal with the “rule of six” change, but it seems clear that Ms Patel is applying the ban to a different situation.
The rules appear designed to ensure that, once the group of six is formed, it is not abused by groups or their members joining other groups.
We can imagine a scenario in which a pub beer garden contains five tables, all of which have groups of six seated at them.
The regulations bar people from becoming “a member of any other group of persons participating in the gathering” – which we could understand as switching tables.
They then go on to ban any efforts to “otherwise mingle with any person” who is “not a member of the same qualifying group as them” – which would appear to be a prohibition on, say, hanging around with someone from another table in a corner of the beer garden, or lurking near their table for an extended chat.
The rules specify “gatherings” rather than any ambient movement through the world, and can be understood to refer to gatherings in places of business, clubs, institutions or public spaces such as parks where people intentionally meet up.
A very strict understanding of the regulations could divide all of society into groups of six or less and bar them from interacting, but this would appear to de facto ban all “mingling” behaviour – such as saying hello to anyone at any time, or dealing with a shop worker – and is clearly not the intention of the regulation.