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Gove defends divisive shooting exemption

In the Covid Inquiry Michael Gove explains the decision to exempt shooting and hunting from the ‘rule of six’ during the pandemic.

Former minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, has defended the government’s scrutinised decision to exempt hunting and shooting from “rule of six” restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the Covid Inquiry on 28 November, Mr Gove said he wanted “horizontal rules” that applied to all forms of outdoor activity and did not want to “stoke an argument” over hunting.

On 20 September 2020, “sports gatherings” including shooting and hunting were exempted from rule-of-six measures that restricted people from gathering in groups greater than six indoors or outdoors. The exemption meant shooting and hunting parties could gather in groups of up to 30 people.

A series of WhatsApp messages from September 2020, in which Mr Gove discussed the exemption, were shown to the inquiry including messages from a group named ‘Shoot rules’. A member of the group whose name has been redacted wrote: “I presume you are strongly in favour of exempting but in a way that it doesn’t appear on face of regs.”

Gove replied “Yes” before stating: “I think we need to be VERY careful on how it is presented… Shooting is defensible economically and environmentally… Foxhunting not so much.”

Chief counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC questioned Gove as to whether avoiding highlighting a shooting exemption represented “sleight of hand” and why the exemption could not be discussed directly if there was just cause. Gove said this wasn’t the case, and insisted they were not at the time running through different types of sports and outdoor activities one by one.

Christopher Graffius, director of communications and public affairs at BASC told ST: “When the Covid rule of six was introduced, there were a number of exemptions. BASC worked with the Government to ensure that shooting would be included on this list of exemptions, which it was.

“Shooting is a non-contact sport where people are largely standing 30 yards away from each other outdoors. The notion that this was a risky activity to include in the list of exemptions is nonsense.”