The Home Secretary was grilled on how police officers will be able to enforce coronavirus restrictions this week as thousands of Britons were told they could no longer travel to see their families for Christmas. BBC Radio 4’s Today host Martha Kearney asked: “Specifically on this question of enforcement, what are your guidelines for the police? Are they going to be expected to be bursting through the door on Christmas Day to find out how many households are eating their turkey.
“Should they just stand back and rely on people’s good sense or do you want to play any kind of role of deterrence?”
Priti Patel replied: “First of all, the British police are sensible, they absolutely know how to respect one another and keep each other safe and also protect nearest and dearests.
“You ask about police specifically, the police have been enforcing coronavirus regulations and laws throughout the year as they’ve all been in place.
“There is no difference right now throughout the Christmas period. There is a fundamental distinction though between policing in the public space and the private space. And the police will continue to be visible in the community.
“They will continue to police in a very proactive way as they’ve been doing.”
As the BBC host stressed on the “specifics” of the enforcement, she blasted: “You see the police everywhere, Martha.
“The police are at the stations, the police are walking across high streets.
“They are engaging the public as they always have been, consistently so.”
Police leaders believe it will be spring before any “dramatic” changes are made to lockdown rules.
Chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council Martin Hewitt told the PA news agency officers are “realistic” about the continuing demands of the pandemic.
He said: “We are all very realistic that this is not going to finish any time soon.
“As has been made fairly clear by the Prime Minister really we’re talking to spring time before we can really see things dramatically changing.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had appeared to suggest that police might stop the public leaving Tier 4 areas, after crowds flocked to railway stations in London on Saturday ahead of new travel restrictions being imposed.
But Mr Hewitt denied this, saying: “There is no regulation that says you can’t travel.
“The point is if you are in a Tier 4 area then there are only certain reasons why you can be away from your home, obvious reasons around work, around medication, around caring duties, around essential shopping.
“If people are out doing those, what I would say to them is do the minimum moving around that you need to do, because if you move around obviously you’re coming into contact potentially with other people and that’s where the disease can spread.
“We will be out and about, we will be talking to people, we will be explaining and if people are in a position where they are not following the rules, we will again encourage them to follow the rules.
“Only in those cases where people are deliberately or determinedly refusing to follow the regulations then we can obviously resort to enforcement.
“We are not going to be setting up road checks.”
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He also rejected assertions by Metropolitan Police Federation chief Ken Marsh, who told BBC News that coronavirus laws were a “toothless tiger”.
Mr Marsh said: “If you go to a household and they don’t open their door, there is absolutely nothing we can do.
“There are no powers in place to enter or to gain entry.
“When you’re given a toothless tiger in terms of the capacity of law, then you have to work within that credence.”
He also told the broadcaster that officers could become super-spreaders if they are not vaccinated against Covid-19.
Mr Marsh said: “I find it breathtaking that the Government aren’t for one minute thinking ‘we need to vaccinate our frontline officers so they protect themselves and protect the public’.”