Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has shot down Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s call for Conservative MPs and ministers to wear masks in the crowded Commons chamber.
Mr Rees-Mogg suggested on Thursday that Tories do not need to wear face coverings in Parliament because with their “convivial, fraternal spirit” they know each other well.
Current guidance introduced in England after their mandatory use ended this summer is to wear masks in crowded and enclosed spaces where individuals “come into contact with people you don’t normally meet”.
The Health Secretary had called on Wednesday for Tories to set a good example by masking up to help avoid further restrictions being introduced to stem a wave of coronavirus cases.
No 10 appeared surprised that Mr Javid issued the call and declined to back his advice, instead pointing to the guidance on wearing them around less familiar faces.
Asked by his SNP counterpart, Pete Wishart, in the Commons about the Health Secretary’s advice, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “There is no advice to wear facemasks in workplaces.
“The advice on crowded spaces is with crowded spaces with people that you don’t know. We on this side know each other.”
He joked that “it may be that the honourable gentleman doesn’t like mixing with his own side”, adding “but we on this side have a more convivial, fraternal spirit, and therefore are following the guidance of Her Majesty’s Government”.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said he had not discussed mask wearing with the Prime Minister – who is visiting Northern Ireland on Thursday for the centenary of the partition of Ireland – since Mr Javid’s remarks.
But the spokesman declined to back them, instead telling reporters: “It remains the case that it’s a matter of personal judgment for all individuals on wearing a mask.
“We have very clear guidance, which sets out that people are recommended to wear face coverings in crowded, enclosed spaces where they come into contact with people they do not normally meet.”
On Wednesday, mask-less Tories surrounded Mr Johnson in a packed Commons chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Mr Javid was told at a Downing Street press conference that afternoon that it was leaving the Government open to allegations it is not practising what it preaches.
“I think that’s a very fair point,” Mr Javid responded, saying secretaries of state and health leaders “have all got our role to play in this”.
He added: “We also have a role to play to set an example as private individuals as well, I think that’s a very fair point and I’m sure a lot of people will have heard you.”
Noticeably more Tories chose to wear masks in the chamber on Thursday morning despite it not being packed.
Deputy chief whip Stuart Andrew, health minister Gillian Keegan and trade minister Penny Mordaunt were among the Conservative frontbenchers to wear one.
Mr Rees-Mogg did not.
Professor Robert West, a health psychologist advising the Government as part of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), argued that MPs would be effective in setting an example if they wore masks.
“Actually people who are ambivalent, it gives them a kind of excuse if you like, to say, ‘If they’re not doing it why should I do it’,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.
“It’s about leadership. And politicians often talk to members of the public and sports personalities and so on about setting a right example for the public and I do think it behoves them to do the same thing.”