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MPs pack Commons for first time in 17 months – but make different choices on face masks

Written by on 18/08/2021

The House of Commons has seen packed benches for the first time since COVID gripped the UK – with different choices being made by MPs across the chamber on whether to wear a face mask.

With parliament recalled to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan, MPs sat shoulder-to-shoulder on both sides of the house.

Most on the Labour and opposition benches chose to opt for a face covering, but many Tories decided not to.

Live updates as MPs discuss Afghanistan

Most MPs on the opposition benches chose to wear a face covering
Image: Most MPs on the opposition benches chose to wear a face covering

It was the first time since March 2020 that MPs were crammed into the house with no requirement to follow social distancing guidelines or to wear a mask.

The emergency debate was the first to be held under the post-COVID parliament rules where MPs had to attend in person in order to say something.

MPs are no longer able to dial into Commons proceedings via services such as Zoom, which became the norm during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Only a few MPs sitting on the benches behind Boris Johnson were seen wearing a mask as the prime minister opened the debate.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab chose not to use any face covering.

Last month Mr Javid was forced to issue an apology after he was widely criticised for saying people should no longer “cower” from coronavirus.

The Tory benches were mostly filled with MPs choosing not to use face coverings
Image: The Tory benches were mostly filled with MPs choosing not to use face coverings

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, were also among those sitting on the front bench not wearing a face mask.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt could also be seen on the Conservative benches immediately behind Mr Johnson and was mostly seen wearing a mask.

Ex-prime minister Theresa May was also at odds with most of the Tory MPs sitting around her as she donned a blue face covering, only removing it when she made an early contribution to the debate.

Former prime minister Theresa May only removed her face mask when speaking during the debate
Image: Former prime minister Theresa May only removed her face mask when speaking during the debate

On the opposition benches, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford were among those using face masks.

Ahead of making a contribution to the speech, some MPs and party leaders wearing a mask would remove the covering several minutes before speaking.

Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle set out to MPs moments before the debate started how proceedings had returned to what was last experienced 17 months ago.

The House of Commons was packed with MPs for the first time since March 2020
Image: The House of Commons was packed with MPs for the first time since March 2020

He said: “I wish to remind the house that the provisions which allow for the hybrid participation in the chamber are no longer in place.

“All contributions to proceedings will once again be made from within this chamber.”

 Sky News

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