Jacob Rees-Mogg today insisted Tory MPs do not have to wear masks in the Commons because they ‘know each other’ – despite Sajid Javid urging them to ‘set an example’.
A Cabinet split emerged after the Health Secretary backed face coverings as a way to curb rising Covid cases, saying those complaining that the protections were being shunned in the House had a ‘fair point’.
But Commons Leader Mr Rees-Mogg gave the idea short shrift when he was challenged about his own behaviour.
‘There is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces,’ he said.
‘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’.
Tory MPs including Andrew Murrison and Desmond Swayne also vented anger at the call to wear masks, claiming it was damaging mental health and hampering the vaccination drive.
And Downing Street pointedly refused to support the message from Mr Javid, saying it is a matter of ‘personal judgement’.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (left) today insisted Tory MPs do not have to wear masks in the Commons because they ‘know each other’ – despite Sajid Javid (right) urging them to ‘set an example’
Few MPs on the have worn masks on the government benches in recent weeks, even when the chamber is busy – although the numbers were noticeably higher today despite there being plenty of space
Former ministers Andrew Murrison (right) and Desmond Swayne (left) were among those venting anger after the Health Secretary insisted they should be ‘setting an example’
The backlash came as vaccines minister Maggie Throup updated the Commons amid a clamour from scientists and doctors for tougher restrictions to curb rising infections
The row escalated as vaccines minister Maggie Throup updated the Commons amid a clamour from scientists and doctors for tougher restrictions to curb rising infections.
Few MPs on the have worn masks on the government benches in recent weeks, even when the chamber is busy – although the numbers were noticeably higher today despite there being plenty of space.
Deputy chief whip Stuart Andrew, health minister Gillian Keegan and trade minister Penny Mordaunt used face coverings in the chamber.
Grilling Ms Throup, Dr Murrison said: ‘Will the minister ensure an obsession with non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as mask wearing, does not obscure the central message, which is that the way out of this is through the continuation of the UK’s excellent vaccination programme?’
Ms Throup said the vaccination programme is the ‘best wall of defence’ for the UK.
Sir Desmond added: ‘When we’re increasingly concerned about mental health, the mask that she was wearing only moments ago deny us the fellowship and reassurance of her friendly facial expression.
‘But the material of which it is composed has gaps that are 5,000 times bigger than the virus, aren’t they?’
Ms Throup replied: ‘I look forward to the time we don’t need to wear face coverings because I love to see everyone’s smiling faces, but we do need to make sure that we all get jabbed so we can get to that stage.’
Answering a question about whether all Tory MPs to wear masks, Ms Throup said: ‘Plan A outlines the guidance that we have in place and that’s the guidance that people should be following, and it’s up to individuals to work out what works for them and what’s best for them. Plan B incorporates mandatory wearing of masks but we’re on plan A.’
Mr Rees-Mogg issued his own rebuttal at Business Questions shortly afterwards.
Mr Javid was challenged at a Downing Street press conference last night over why the Conservative benches were full of maskless MPs.
‘That’s a very fair point and I’m sure a lot of people will have heard you,’ he said.
But the PM’s official spokesman said today: ‘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.’
Mr Javid appears to have had a change of heart, after previously suggesting ministers did not need to wear masks during meetings as ‘they’re not strangers’.
‘What we said is that people should consider wearing masks in crowded places when they are with strangers, when they are with people they are not normally spending time with,’ he said last month.
Government guidance states: ‘You are expected and recommended to continue wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t usually meet.’