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Jacob Rees-Mogg and Therese Coffey among unmasked on Tory frontbench during Budget

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Therese Coffey among unmasked on Tory frontbench during Budget
Frontbench split over issue of face coverings during chancellor’s Budget

Members of the government’s frontbench were split over whether a face mask should be worn in the Commons as they gathered to hear the chancellor deliver the Budget.

While Boris Johnson did not wear a face mask during Prime Minister’s Questions earlier on Wednesday, he put one on alongside other Cabinet members as Rishi Sunak stood at the despatch box.

Notable exceptions deciding not to wear a face mask in the Commons were Jacob Rees-Mogg and work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey.

Mr Rees-Mogg last week insisted Tories do not need to wear masks in Parliament because with their “convivial, fraternal spirit” they know each other well.

There was also a clear difference on face coverings across the chamber, with universal mask wearing on the Opposition benches while more Tory MPs were without masks than with.

Conservative former prime minister Theresa May wore a face covering as did health secretary Sajid Javid.

The day before the Budget was delivered, the House of Commons ordered everyone except MPs to wear face coverings while on the parliamentary estate due to rising Covid cases.

Therese Coffey during the Budget on Wednesday

The measure applies to staff, contractors and visitors but the Commons authorities said it could not compel MPs to wear masks as they are not deemed to be Parliament employees.

However, officials said Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle would be encouraging elected representatives, despite not being obliged to wear a face covering, to put one on in the Commons chamber unless they are speaking or are exempt.

The ruling comes after MPs were urged to wear masks during the Chancellor’s Budget speech on Wednesday by a coronavirus expert from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid-19, said “everybody” should be wearing masks in close confinement with other people, “including our leaders”.

Mr Javid said on Monday wearing a mask in the crowded chamber is a “personal decision” for ministers and backbenchers.

Additional reporting by Press Association.