Pret a Manger is again at the centre of the government’s incoherent policy on face coverings in England, as Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove stepped in and out of Pret wearing one, just six days after being criticised for his decision not to do so in the same Westminster branch.
Last week, photos of Gove’s unmasked trip to pick up a salad, hot croissant, and orange juice came minutes after trade secretary and fellow cabinet colleague Liz Truss emerged from the same branch wearing a face covering. Each episode came a day after the government announced that wearing masks in shops would be mandatory in England from 24 July.
Gove’s suspect integrity notwithstanding, Pret a Manger is a food business and, by some definitions, a cafe. The government’s new policy on face coverings does not, for reasons best known only to themselves/because “obviously people have got to eat”, extend to hospitality venues. However, Gove’s defence on this basis is somewhat threadbare when taking into account that another cabinet colleague, the health secretary, no less, Matt Hancock had earlier told Sky News that “You do need to wear a face mask in Pret because Pret is a shop.”
Gove himself has said he did not believe mask-wearing should be enforced, but had told the BBC that it is “basic good manners, courtesy, and consideration to wear a face mask if, for example, you are in a shop.” He added that it needn’t be mandatory because he trusted “people’s good sense.”
On the day that Hancock explicitly cited Pret in the government’s rationale, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to contradict his health chief, saying, with the hedgy first-person caveat he’s so fond of, that: “My understanding is that it wouldn’t be mandatory if you went in, for example, to a sandwich shop in order to get a takeaway, to wear a face covering.” Business secretary Alok Sharma and education secretary Gavin Williamson both appeared to agree with the Prime Minster, with the former telling Sky News that it would not be compulsory but “we would certainly encourage it.” Williams, also to Sky News, said: “you don’t have to [wear a mask to Pret].”
Pret evidently has a loyal following among senior members of this government. Photo-op, chain-restaurant-loving-chancellor Rishi Sunak, on the same day Truss and Gove stopped in, was also photographed procuring his own set of convenience refreshments. Sunak did so while wearing a mask.