Tory ministers defend Stanley Johnson flouting face mask rule

Boris Johnson's father Stanley Johnson. Photograph: BBC.

Boris Johnson's father Stanley Johnson. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: BBC

Tory ministers past and present have defended Boris Johnson's father for not wearing a face mask in public and say he should not be fined.

Environment minister George Eustice and former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said penalties, which range from £200 to £10,000 for failing to follow government advice on new Covid measures, should only be reserved for repeat offenders.

Stanley Johnson was pictured in the Mirror newspaper perusing the shelves at a newsagents in west London on Tuesday, seemingly breaking the rules by not covering his mouth and nose.

Johnson said he was unaware he had to wear a mask as he had been out of the country for past three weeks.

Environment minister George Eustice on LBC radio

Environment minister George Eustice on LBC radio - Credit: Twitter, LBC radio

Asked if the prime minister's father and former Labour leader Jeremy Cornyn - who was pictured at a dinner party with more than six people - should be fined, Eustice, appearing on LBC radio said: "My view is that fines should be reserved for people wilfully and repeatedly breaching the regulations we have in place.

"I don't think they're appropriate for people who make innocent areas or an oversight or forget something.

"In [Corbyn's] case, and in the case of the prime minister's father being pictured without a mask; they both accepted they were wrong and have apologised."

He added: "The use of financial penalty in the form of a fine should be reserved for the most egregious cases."

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Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the minister said he would let the police decide if Johnson should be fined.

The former health secretary agreed.

He told the LBC's Nick Ferrari: "I think persistent offenders, yes, but a fist time offence by accident, a bit of British leniency."

Johnson has since said he was “extremely sorry” about breaking the rules.

The picture of Johnson emerged after fines increased to £200 last week for first time offenders who fail to wear a face covering in accordance with government guidance.

Speaking to the newspaper, Johnson said he may not be “100% up to speed” with current rules as he had just returned to England after three weeks abroad.

“I’m extremely sorry for the slip up and I would urge absolutely everybody to do everything they can to make sure they do follow the rules about masks and social distancing,” he said.

“The fact this was my first day back in the UK after three weeks abroad is, I am sure, no excuse for not knowing the rules.”

During the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, the prime minister implored the public to follow coronavirus guidelines.

“Bear in mind that the fines are now very considerable and they will be imposed,” he said.

Face coverings have been compulsory in shops and public transport since July 24, and last week the government guidance was extended to hospitality venues, theatres, restaurants, bars and pubs unless people need to remove them to eat or drink.

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