Boris Johnson wears face mask in Commons for first time in months

PM’s move during budget speech signals shift in Covid stance as most Tory frontbenchers follow suit

Boris Johnson has worn a mask in the House of Commons chamber for the first time in months, signalling a slightly more cautious approach to Covid, both in parliament and the outside world.

New rules were set down for parliamentary staff on Tuesday in advance of the budget speech, requiring them to wear face coverings around the estate. While there is no such requirement for MPs and the law only says people should use their personal judgment, the number of Conservatives who decided to wear masks was notably higher on Wednesday than it has been in recent weeks when politicians have repeatedly packed into the chamber and sat shoulder to shoulder.

Three frontbenchers appeared maskless as they sat while the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered the autumn budget. They were the Scotland secretary, Alister Jack; the work and pensions secretary, Therese Coffey; and the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The latter has been an ardent critic of mask-wearing, and earlier this month suggested that the reason so few Conservatives were using face coverings in the chamber was because they knew each other and had a “convivial, fraternal spirit”.

Despite the new lead from the Conservative frontbench on Wednesday, a large proportion of Tories chose not to wear masks, prompting criticism from the opposition.

The shadow minister Chi Onwurah said her colleagues had been “strongly encouraged to wear masks and are doing so” but Conservative mask-wearers were “still very much in a minority”.

While Labour has shown keenness to set an example by wearing masks in the chamber, some Conservatives say many opposition MPs do not wear face coverings in other crowded indoor settings away from the TV cameras, including around the parliamentary estate and at party conference.

Keir Starmer was not present to respond to PMQs or the budget after it was revealed on Wednesday morning that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, stood in to put questions to Boris Johnson, while the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, was lined up to respond to Sunak’s speech.

A memo sent around to parliamentary staffers and contractors on Tuesday night said there had been “recent increases in Covid-19 across the country, which are also being reflected in parliament”. It said the rules were being changed to make masks mandatory for everyone working in the palace of Westminster, except for MPs, and that the situation was “highly fluid”.

Contributor

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Keir Starmer presses Boris Johnson over 'big gap' in test and trace
Labour leader says just a third of people who tested positive for Covid-19 have been reached

Kate Proctor

24, Jun, 2020 @1:28 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson indicates at PMQs he has not read winter coronavirus report
Keir Starmer presses PM over scientists’ call for preparations for possible second wave

Peter Walker Political correspondent

15, Jul, 2020 @12:35 PM

Article image
Like a borderline sociopath, Johnson again misjudges the mood of the chamber | John Crace
PM has yet another PMQs horror show as he responds to Starmer’s solemn question with a bad joke

John Crace

15, Jul, 2020 @4:06 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer pushes Boris Johnson for Covid public inquiry
Labour leader says investigation of ‘many mistakes that were made’ should start when restrictions end

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

24, Mar, 2021 @1:26 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson refuses to apologise to care workers at PMQs
Prime minister pressed by Keir Starmer over comments on coronavirus deaths

Heather Stewart

08, Jul, 2020 @11:53 AM

Article image
‘One rule for them’: Boris Johnson criticised for maskless cabinet meeting
PM under fire as senior Tories forgo masks on same day he urges public to wear them in crowded spaces

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

14, Sep, 2021 @5:53 PM

Article image
Public confidence has caused Covid test shortage, Boris Johnson argues
PM says people cannot get tests because growing faith in system has increased demand

Peter Walker Political correspondent

09, Sep, 2020 @12:30 PM

Article image
UK coronavirus testing will increase to 25,000 a day, says Boris Johnson
PM says NHS staff will be prioritised and UK is far ahead of many comparable countries

Sarah Boseley Health editor

18, Mar, 2020 @1:41 PM

Article image
Don't get hopes up about rapid Covid vaccine rollout, Boris Johnson tells UK
Prime minister stresses continued importance of coronavirus restrictions at PMQs

Peter Walker Political correspondent

02, Dec, 2020 @1:13 PM

Article image
Battered, bloodshot Boris is no longer the star of his own show | John Crace
Keir Starmer barely has to get out of second gear to win PMQs now. It must be driving Johnson mad

John Crace

30, Sep, 2020 @7:21 PM