What is a substantial meal? What Michael Gove said about Scotch eggs - and Covid Tier 2 pub rules explained

George Eustice sparked debate over what the government meant by a “substantial meal” in its guidance on the eve of national lockdown being lifted

Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 4:55 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 4:57 pm
Scotch eggs have been the focus of debate as England's pubs prepare for life after lockdown. (Pic: Getty Images)

Pub landlords across England were left examining government guidelines after environment secretary George Eustice said a Scotch egg could equate to a substantial meal for patrons to order alongside an alcoholic drink.

Under the government’s Covid regulations, all pubs and bars in Tier 2 can reopen when the national lockdown restrictions are lifted on 2 December as the country moves into a three stage alert system in a bid to control the virus this winter.

Tier 2 pubs and bars can only do this if they operate as a restaurant, meaning “a substantial meal” is served for customers wishing to order an alcoholic drink, throwing into question what types of food is covered under the phrase.

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What is a substantial meal?

The government’s winter Covid plan offers further guidance around the subject.

It states: “In tier 2 pubs and bars must close unless they are serving substantial meals (like full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal), along with accompanying drinks”.

Is a Scotch egg a substantial meal?

George Eustice. (Pic: Getty Images)

Mr Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, muddied the waters when he suggested a Scotch egg may be classed as a substantial meal.

Speaking to LBC Radio, he said: “I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service.

“Often that might be as a starter but yes I think it would, but this is a term that’s understood in licensing since it is, you can have the concept of a table licence for alcohol that also requires you to serve a substantial meal.

“That is the model that is being followed.”

Michael Gove. (Pic: Getty Images)

Has the government offered any clarification?

A substantial meal - a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal - does not cover bar snacks, a government spokesperson told Sky News.

Yet the debate continues as Michael Gove told viewers of ITV’s Good Morning Britain it was “probably a starter” - only to confuse matters further later on Tuesday 1 December.

“A Scotch egg is a substantial meal,” Mr Gove, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told ITV News. And 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.”

What are the repercussions for pubs?

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

What are the government guidelines for pubs in Tier 2?

Pubs and bars in Tier 2 cannot open unless the businesses operate as restaurants, meaning hospitality venues can only serve alcohol with substantial meals.

Non-alcoholic drinks can be served without a meal.

Those pubs and bars that can reopen to sell food and drink are required to provide table service only, stop taking orders at 10pm and close its doors at 11pm.

Hospitality has to close between 11pm and 5am though there are some exceptions such as airports, ports, transport services and motorway service areas.