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Brexiteer opinion on face masks is just as illogical as their stance on the EU

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove buys a cigarette lighter from a shop near St James's Park in Westminster. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Prominent Brexit supporters’ stance on face masks is just as illogical and damaging as their opinions on leaving the European Union, says STEVE ANGLESEY.

As the old saying goes, at least Dick Turpin wore a mask. Far less keen on face coverings, it seems, are the modern generation of people determined to part us from our money – the Brexiteers.

Rather than good old-fashioned highway robbery, they are robbing us of our highway to the world’s largest trading block, and they are determined to do so with barefaced cheek. At least, that appears to be the message from several prominent Brexit supporters who are horrified by the idea of having to wear face masks in English shops from July 24, with fines of up to £100 for non-compliance.

Former Ukipper Suzanne Evans felt her health was at risk from the pandemic-slowing devices. ‘No no no,’ she wrote. ‘I had to wear a mask throughout my inevitably long haircut on Thursday. I felt sick, claustrophobic, had a mild panic attack… Really, no. I also developed a cold sore on my lip the next day for no apparent reason. Strongly suspect the mask is to blame.’

Evans added: ‘Also, no evidence masks work for Covid.’ The World Health Organisation disagrees – ‘the use of masks is part of a comprehensive package of the prevention and control measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19,’ says their website. But just WHO (geddit?) are they next to Suzanne, who can diagnose mask-related cold sores without any medical training?

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‘Oh well. No more going to the shops for me,’ vowed Evans’ former UKIP colleague and Vote Leave founder Douglas Carswell. ‘Nothing would make it less likely for me to go shopping than the thought of having to wear a mask,’ added Tory MP Desmond Swayne. Tragic news for local businesses which sell copies of The Spectator, Harris tweed cravats and those plimsolls with ‘L’ and ‘R’ painted on the toes.

But will there even be any stores left for Dougie and Des to boycott once the masked terror has its way with our high streets? On Twitter, journalist Quentin Letts predicted the following as ‘possible after Johnson’s masks imposition: shop closures, job losses, police viewed with fear, public squealing on maskless neighbours.’

Surprisingly no mention of an appearance from the Great Whore of Babylon riding on a scarlet-coloured beast with seven heads and 10 horns, but perhaps Quentin ran out of characters.

‘They’re so dehumanising,’ moaned David Starkey’s favourite interviewer, Darren Grimes. ‘You miss a smile, you can miss dialogue and social interaction with staff.’ You might also miss a deadly virus which has killed 44,000 Britons so far and might account for 120,000 more in a winter second wave if we don’t mask up – but what’s that next to a cheeky grin from a shopkeeper?

When even their great American hero Donald Trump is going around masked, isn’t this a particularly strange hill for the Brexiteers to (potentially) die on? Not so. The intersection between Brexit and right-wing libertarianism is strong, meaning many Brexiteers have horizons much broader than simply hating the EU. They hate anyone at all who dares to tell them what to do, no matter how sensible that advice might be.

So it matters not when a recent study shows that countries with government policies or cultural norms promoting mask-wearing have lower death rates than countries without. Or when another study shows mask mandates in 15 US states have considerably slowed the virus’ spread – hence Trump’s capitulation. The hardcore Brexiteer anti-maskers still seem to believe that the gross affront to their personal liberties outweighs their responsibility to join in and protect others. They refer to a mask as a ‘muzzle’, invoking both the noun and the verb – a restrictive guard which stops the wearer biting back at authority by expressing their beliefs.

‘Muzzles should be voluntary, not mandatory. Another sinister encroachment of the state,’ wrote pig’s head exclusive-getter Isabel Oakeshott, partner of the Brexit Party’s Richard Tice. Added the Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens: ‘I use the word ‘muzzle’ because that is the true purpose of these garments, to obtain submission and sustain conformist fear.’

Neither of them added ‘wake up sheeple’, but they might as well have done. And you have to give them credit – the idea that being told to temporarily wear a mask in shops to protect yourself and others is a ‘sinister encroachment’ to ‘obtain submission’ is at least as logical as the idea that ‘the EU needs us more than we need it’, or any number of other Brexiteer canards.

The funny thing is, once Brexit and coronavirus are out of the way, where will the liberty warriors stop? The hated metric system and TV licence are already in their sights but expect assaults on everything from paying taxes for things they don’t agree with (overseas development, the arts, the NHS) to smoking bans.

Perhaps another confining, constricting supposedly protective apparatus favoured by the nanny state will be in their sights too. Then, one day soon, Britons will be trusted to unclick their seatbelts forever and prepare to fly fast and free through the windscreen of red tape towards the glorious opportunities on the golden road ahead of us.

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