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The great political divide… on face masks! Tory benches opt against own guidance in Commons


The great political divide… on face masks! Tory benches opt against own guidance on wearing coverings in packed Commons debate over Afghanistan — but opposition masks-up

  • All but two frontbench ministers declined to wear a mask, with Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab among them 
  • In sign of how politically divisive masks have become, virtually everyone on the opposition benches wore one
  • MPs crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into House for first time since March last year to debate Afghanistan

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Most Tory MPs refused to wear a face covering today as Parliament returned to full capacity for the first time since Covid struck — but the opposition defied the country’s post-lockdown freedoms by masking up.

Government guidance recommends masks are worn in ‘crowded and enclosed spaces’, yet all but two frontbench ministers — Michael Gove and security minister Damian Hinds — declined to wear one in the packed Chamber.

MPs were crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into the House for the first time since March last year to debate the situation in Afghanistan and were not required to socially distance or wear a face covering.

But, in a sign of how politically divisive masks have become, virtually everyone on the opposition benches opted to wear one, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner.

Boris Johnson led those on the Government’s front benches who declined to wear a covering, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary.

The Tory backbenches were almost entirely mask-less, with former Prime Minister Theresa May and ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt among a small number of outliers.  

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle — a former Labour MP— has urged mask-wearing in the Chamber but he does not have the power to enforce it. 

Today’s emergency debate was the first to be held under new post-Covid rules which mean MPs have to attend in person to be able to say something. MPs are no longer allowed to dial into Commons debates via Zoom, which became the norm in lockdown. 

The move by many Conservatives to ditch their masks came hours after a public health expert urged MPs to wear them to set a good example. 

Edinburgh University professor of public health Linda Bauld acknowledged that while it might be difficult to make a speech in Parliament with a mask on, it would be ‘good practice’ for them to be worn when not speaking.

She said: ‘The virus is airborne, we currently have slightly rising numbers of cases, so it is a protective measure that they can take and I’m sure everyone in public health would agree when indoors we should do that where possible.

‘It is important that people who are in positions of authority lead by example, and that’s been a bit of an issue throughout the pandemic in a whole variety of respects but continues to be the case.

‘If public figures are wearing them indoors, that will encourage others to do that in working environments even if it’s advisory.

‘When you’re in a crowded indoor environment and distancing, as in two metres, is not possible, then a face covering does provide additional protection.

‘And I think if members of the public are seeing a crowded indoor environment, where those mitigations are not being used when they’re available, that’s not best practice and it may send a message in relation to other environments that people are accessing.’

Since July 19 face coverings have not been mandatory in England, but Government guidance says they are recommended in crowded and enclosed spaces.

It says: ‘We expect and recommend that members of the public continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet.’

It adds that people should ‘use your judgment in deciding where you should wear one’.

Asked why a number of MPs were not wearing masks in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was a matter for the parliamentary authorities.

The spokesman said the advice ‘still remains’ that face coverings should be worn in indoor crowded spaces.

But he added: ‘The arrangements for the House are a matter for the parliamentary authorities, as you know masks are not a mandatory requirement.’

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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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