Boris Johnson has apologised and said he “misspoke” after struggling to explain new restrictions imposed on the north-east of England.
From Wednesday it will be illegal for people in large parts of the region to mix households in indoor settings such as pubs and restaurants.
The government said the local lockdown is designed to drive down a recent spike in coronavirus cases.
But it was unclear whether it will also be against the law for households to meet in pub gardens.
This morning skills minister Gillian Keegan was unable to answer when pressed. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” she told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
Speaking to reporters in Exeter on Tuesday, Johnson also was unable to give a direct answer.
“I totally understand people’s feelings about this. The vast majority of people also understand we need to be getting this virus down allowing people to continue in education and keeping our economy going in the way that we are,” the prime minister said.
“On the rule of six, outside the areas such as the north east where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside six outside and in the north east and other areas where extra tight measures have been brought in you should follow the guidance of local authorities.
“But it’s six in a home or six in hospitality, but as I understand it not six outside. That’s the situation.
He added: “I appreciate that this is one of those things that people will feel is confusing.”
Johnson later tweeted an attempt to clarify the rules, suggesting while it was illegal for household to mix indoors, it was not against the law to do so outdoors even if though it was discouraged.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “For the prime minister to not understand his own rules is grossly incompetent.
“These new restrictions are due to come into force across huge parts of the country tonight. The government needs to get a grip.”
Restrictions will begin on Wednesday and be enforceable by law in the areas of Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland and Sunderland.
The leader of Gateshead Council, Martin Gannon, told the BBC on Tuesday that while the new rules were needed they had been introduced in a “chaotic” way.
“We had had discussions last week that led us to believe that this was going to happen. We just weren’t pre-warned that it was actually going to happen. It didn’t help,” he said.