Scotch eggs “probably would count” as a substantial meal if a pub offers table service, Cabinet minister George Eustice has said. 

The environment secretary sought to clarify the issue as huge swathes of the country prepare to move into the Covid tier 2, where people can drink in pubs provided they are eating a “substantial meal”. 

On Friday, Downing Street made clear that once people have finished their food, however, that they should leave. 

Eustice told LBC Radio on Monday morning that something as small as a scotch egg would count as a meal. 

“I think a scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there was table service,” he told presenter Nick Ferrari. “Often that might be as a starter.”

Around 57% of the population of England (32 million people) will be living under tier 2 restrictions when the national lockdown ends on Wednesday. 

But around 41.5% (23 million) will be living under the strictest rules in tier 3, where pubs cannot open at all. 

Shops, gyms, hairdressers, beauty salons and leisure centres will be open in both tier 2 and tier 3 areas, however. 

Breakfast of Scotch eggs and traditional vegetable salad (pork and soups) in the borough market.

It comes as Boris Johnson attempts to face down a Tory revolt against the new tiers, with many fearing the severe impact on businesses.

Eustice admitted many Conservative MPs are “unsettled”, but said the government was working hard to persuade them it is the right thing to do.

He BBC Breakfast: “We are facing a large number of our own MPs, yes, who are unsettled by the measures that have had to be taken and the potential impact of that, and we absolutely understand that anxiety.”

He added: “Tiers 2 and 3 … fall short of a lockdown and have many freedoms outside of a lockdown but actually will enable us to hold the spread of the virus in check.”

Separately, he said a move to allow 24-hour trading in the run-up to Christmas has not yet been decided.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice leaves a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street

It comes amid reports ministers are weighing up the measure to ease the impact the pandemic has had on retail. 

He saidt: “We are looking at a range of measures to try and ensure that we don’t get overcrowding in stores, so, while retail venues are going to open from December 2 – that’s very important – we also want to ensure we can maintain social distancing, we want to avoid crowds, so a range of measures are being considered.

“I’m not sure whether there has been a decision yet on round-the-clock opening, but I know there has been some discussion around the Sunday trading hours and some easements there.”

The tiers will be reviewed on December 16, the government has said. 

Eustice has said refused to rule out a third national lockdown if coronavirus infection rates do not dramatically improve. 

A study by Imperial College London, published on Monday, found that the second lockdown had cut infections by 30%

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