Downing Street sent out some mixed messages about mask-wearing in the Commons on Wednesday during the unveiling of the 2021 budget.
While health secretary Sajid Javid has maintained that wearing a face covering is an optional, personal choice, he has heavily pushed for the public to wear one in crowded places to curb the soaring Covid infection rate.
Despite the inevitable backlash over the MPs and ministers not wearing masks in Parliament, new rules came out mandating that all Westminster staff must wear one this week – unless you’re an MP.
So all eyes were on the Tories, who usually go maskless, on Wednesday to see who would follow the government’s own advice about “setting an example” and masking up when not making a speech.
Jacob Rees-Mogg kept up the ‘convivial and fraternal spirit’
The leader of the Commons recently claimed that Tories don’t wear masks because they all know each other and share a “convivial and fraternal spirit” among each other – even though this has never stopped Covid transmission before.
Unsurprisingly, Rees-Mogg didn’t wear a mask.
Therese Coffey made a maskless statement
The work and pensions secretary went rouge among most of her front bench peers and chose to go maskless on Wednesday. She sat next to Alister Jack, the Scotland secretary, who also did not wear a mask.
Admittedly, most Tories on the front bench did wear masks
However, more of those sat further back – such as Andrea Leadsom – chose not to wear masks.
Boris Johnson couldn’t even keep his over his nose
The prime minister actually refused to commit to wearing a mask in the Commons recently, pushing instead of people to prioritise masking up when with people you don’t know.
He claimed the public should prioritise “commonsensical things” to prevent the Covid spread, such as “washing your hands, wearing a mask in confined spaces where you don’t normally meet other people ...where you are meeting people that you don’t normally meet I should say”.
Johnson then didn’t wear the mask as you’re supposed to, despite being on camera throughout almost the entire unveiling of the budget.
Labour went the other way
The opposition party played it safe in comparison as every Labour MP appeared to be wearing a face mask.
The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was absent from the Commons, having tested positive for Covid on Wednesday. Ed Miliband, shadow business secretary, stepped up in his absence during PMQs to drill Johnson.