One Rule For Me: Boris Urging Britons to Mask up, But MPs Crowd into Commons Uncovered

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the debate on the situation in Afghanistan inside parliament in London, as lawmakers attend an emergency sitting three days after the Afghanistan capital Kabul fell to the Taliban. Nearly all ruling Conservative Party lawmakers were not wearing face masks during the debate Wednesday, …

Many members of the British parliament have displayed in recent days — and months — several instances of double standards over the issue of coronavirus measures, appearing to demonstrate that while the rules should apply to the British public, it does not apply to them.

The issue particularly involves masks for MPs, where critics and workers’ unions have censured lawmakers in the lower house for packing in their hundreds into the small chamber this week, including for eight hours on Thursday to discuss events in Afghanistan, despite the Speaker of the House of Commons recommending mask-wearing and the government’s own guidance stating they continue to be worn in “crowded and enclosed spaces”. The government lifted the legal requirement for wearing masks in most public enclosed spaces on July 19th.

Unions representing staff at the House of Commons have criticised the mostly Conservative MPs — who have largely backed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s laws backing restrictions being put on members of the public — for their unwillingness to volunteer to cover up, as per government guidance, according to The Guardian, with four unions taking their complaint to Speaker Lindsay Hoyle on Thursday.

House staff had earlier reportedly complained of there being “literally one rule for them”, when HuffPost reported in July that while staff would be “required” to wear masks inside the parliamentary estate until MPs broke up for their summer recess on July 22nd — despite the law ending the legal requirement just days before — Members of Parliament were simply “encouraged to continue wearing face coverings”.

Prime Minister Johnson likewise dampened the mood of the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ when on July 7th, he said that even though wearing masks would no longer be the law of the land, it was “common sense for people in confined spaces to wear a face mask out of respect and courtesy to others”.

Just hours later, the prime minister was caught riding in a chauffeur-driven car accompanied by his wife and a security detail without a mask, despite his own recommendation on wearing masks while ride-sharing and ministers being told to cover up when using ministerial cars. Both the security officer and driver were fully masked.

Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to resign in June after the married Conservative MP was caught kissing his married female aide, at a time when social distancing rules were in place.

On Freedom Day itself, Prime Minister Johnson made the extraordinary announcement that from late September, people entering nightclubs will need to provide proof of double vaccination — i.e., domestic vaccine passports.

MPs, likewise crowding into confined areas by the hundreds, were, however, assured days later by the Speaker that such passes would not be needed in the British halls of power.

Indeed, it appears that younger Britons have become those whose ability to lead normal lives is most threatened by Johnson’s embrace of domestic vaccine passports, potentially putting impediments between them and vital rites of passage, with the prime minister later suggesting that vaccine passes could be needed for festivals and travel.

Reports had earlier circulated that the prime minister was also considering vaccine passports for all students wanting to study or live on-campus, though the plans were later denied.

However, despite indications the government will not be legally mandating vaccination for higher education, one university reportedly this week became the first in the UK to ban unvaccinated students from some of its facilities.

The Telegraph reported on Thursday that Hartpury University and College — a leading agriculture, animal care and sports education provider — said vaccination would be a “mandatory requirement” for students living in university halls of residence and for taking part in extracurricular sports and social activities, according to a letter sent to students seen by the newspaper.

The requirement will also stand for its further education pupils (aged 16 and 17) living on-site at the college. The email was sent on August 16th, less than two weeks after the British government authorised the vaccination of 16- and 17-year-olds, without parental consent.

A spokesman for Hartpury confirmed the report, saying: “The Students’ Union is in full support of our vaccination requirements for students who wish to live on campus.”

The Johnson administration appears to have created a framework in which even if vaccine passports are not legally mandated, government provision of technology such as the NHS apps would drive private bodies to demand proof of vaccination or immunity to access their services.

Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi predicted as much in November when he first seriously raised the prospect of immunity passes.

Zahawi had said: “We are looking at the technology and of course a way of people informing their GP that they’ve been vaccinated.

“But also I think you’ll probably find that restaurants, bars, and cinemas and other venues — sports venues — will probably also use that system as they’ve done with the [NHS Test and Trace] app.”

“In many ways, the pressure comes from both ways: from service providers who will say, ‘Demonstrate to us that you’ve been vaccinated,’ but also we will make the technology as easy and accessible as possible,” he added.


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