Tory minister denies face mask announcement ends government’s faith in ‘British people’s common sense’

Environment Secretary George Eustice. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA.

Environment Secretary George Eustice. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA. - Credit: PA

A senior Tory minister has been confronted over the government's 'confusing' messaging over face masks, and denied the new measures signalled the end of faith in 'British people's common sense'.

Environment minister George Eustice appeared on LBC radio to promote a government announcement to make face masks mandatory in shops and supermarkets across England from July 24.

He was explaining the measures when presenter Tom Swarbrick asked what had made Downing Street suddenly 'kill' its faith in 'British people's common sense' and introduce more severe regulations that could see people fined £100 for not covering up in public.

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'The truth is that the evidence and advice has been evolving in this space over time,' Eustice rebutted. 'The WHO changed its advice in June, following that we gave a very clear advisory steer to people to wear face coverings when out and about.'

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'As we start to loosen other restrictions, like opening pubs and restaurants, we think we need to consider other mitigating measures to control the virus.'

Swarbrick asked what had changed in the space of 24 hours when one of the minister's colleagues appeared on the show suggesting face masks would not become compulsory in certain public places.

'Nothing has changed in that sense. We have faith in them to abide by this rule but the truth is once you make something mandatory people do take it more seriously,' Eustice said.

'It was a mistake, wasn't it? It should have been made compulsory.' Swarbrick put to Eustice, suggesting the messaging should have been made clearer.

MORE: James O'Brien suggests government's confusing messaging over face coverings could be deliberate

Eustice tried to reassure the radio host but implying that it was 'unhelpful' to get 'too obsessed about the announcement of these things'.

Swarbrick shot back: 'But this is important. This is trust of many members of the public in what they're hearing in order to be able to follow, resolutely, in a common sense way, those instructions that the government is giving. It's been a mess.'

Eustice rejected this: 'The government had been considering a change in this area over the last few days but hadn't made that decision, therefore wasn't ready to announce it.'

He said that Michael Gove's 'commons sense' comment on Sunday represented the relevant guidelines at the time and not the guidelines presently.

'So this was the plan? The confusion was part of the plan?' asked Swarbrick.

'I don't think it's right to say the confusion was part of the plan it's just an issue was under consideration but a decision had not been made, therefore a decision could not be announced until it was made,' Eustice said, pointing out the advice to wear face masks has been in place since May.

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