Steerpike

Mogg and The Saj face off on face masks

Mogg and The Saj face off on face masks
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Tory backbenchers have had an uncomfortable relationship with face masks since they were brought in last year. Spectators in the Commons chamber are greeted by the sight of many more Labour MPs preferring to wear the coverings than their Conservative counterparts, with some of the latter relishing the divide as the fundamental difference between their two parties.

But that reluctance for masks gave Sajid Javid an awkward moment at yesterday's No. 10 press conference. After Sebastian Payne of the Financial Times pointed out to the Health Secretary that Tory MPs not wearing mask risked undermining government messaging and risked leaving them open to charges of hypocrisy, a squirming Javid said:

I think that's a very fair point. As I say, we've all got our role to play in this and we the people standing on this stage play our public roles as a secretary of state, as someone in the NHS, as the head of UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency). 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.

And it seems that Javid's words have had an effect on his colleagues, judging by the increased number of Tories who chose to wear masks in the chamber this 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. But Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg did not – and had the quite rejoinder when grilled about it by SNP nemesis Pete Wishart

Rees-Mogg told the Commons that: 'There is no advice to wear face masks 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.' Responding to Wishart, 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.'

Mind you, if he keeps undermining the Health Secretary, for how will long that be the case?

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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