JACOB Rees-Mogg has claimed SNP MPs wouldn't need to wear masks in the House of Commons if they worked as hard as Tories.

In a bizarre retort to a question from Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart, Rees-Mogg claimed that SNP MPs would not need to use face coverings if “they worked a bit harder”.

The claim from the top Tory came after Wishart raised the issue of face masks on the Tory benches.

Earlier in the week, Boris Johnson was criticised for leading a maskless Cabinet meeting of 27 ministers on the same day he urged people to wear masks in enclosed spaces.

The National: At least 27 senior members of government sat close together without face masks on Tuesday, along with eight aides and advisers. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing StreetAt least 27 senior members of government sat close together without face masks on Tuesday, along with eight aides and advisers. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/No10 Downing Street

At PMQs on Wednesday, the Tory benches were also packed but very few of the party’s representatives wore masks.

Wishart told the Commons: “This is now getting beyond a joke. The scenes from a packed PMQs yesterday were simply a disgrace, with barely a facemask on a Tory mush. The House staff are now getting increasingly nervous and anxious about what they are observing. It seems like the Tories have absolutely no regard whatsoever for the safety of their colleagues and the staff who are here to support and help us.

"The Government's own advice states, 'wear a face-covering in crowded and enclosed settings where you come into contact with people you don't normally meet'.

"I don't normally meet any of you lot,” he said, gesturing to the Government benches, “and I am quite happy with that situation. I have got no desire to meet you on a regular basis.

“Yesterday in PMQs this place must have been about the most-crowded enclosed space in the whole of the UK.

"The Health Secretary excused the Tory no-face masks policy, suggesting you can't catch Covid from friends. Isn't it the case that this House is sending the worst possible message to the country and contributing to all sorts of confusion? Will he now be a leader for goodness sake and put a facemask on?”

Wishart was referencing an interview in which Health Secretary Sajid Javid claimed the packed Cabinet meeting had been within guidelines as all of the ministers knew each another.

The senior SNP MP finished with a nod to Rees-Mogg’s previous references to past battles between Scotland and England, telling him there was a new battle for Scotland going on right now “and this one will be won by its people”.

In his retort, the Leader of the House of Commons said that Wishart was “competing with Countess Mona Lott herself”, an apparent reference to a nickname he previously tried to ascribe to the First Minister (below).

The National: Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Addressing the question on face masks, he then went on: "The policy is extremely straightforward, face coverings are not mandatory for members of the House of Commons, the chamber, voting lobbies, Members' Lobby, and Westminster Hall.

"The advice from Her Majesty's Government on face coverings is that they are not required by law in the workplace, and the Government removed the legal requirement to wear face coverings in public places in indoor spaces.

"If you are in a crowded indoor space where you come into contact with people you don't normally meet, wearing a face-covering can help reduce the spread of Covid.

"Is it not interesting that he, and perhaps this applies to the nationalists generally, do not normally meet other MPs? Perhaps, this is because they are not very assiduous in their attendance in the House of Commons?"

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"And is it not a pity that some people don't like to come to Parliament?

"And if they came a bit more, they worked a bit harder, if they put their elbows to the grindstone, wherever you put your elbows, elbows to the wheel, they might not need to wear face coverings either because they would meet members of Parliament more regularly."

The comments, reported online, caused outrage.

Good Law Project director Jolyon Maugham accused Rees-Mogg of “suggesting those who died of Covid did so, at least in part, because they lack a work ethic”.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote simply: “I just can't even.”

Sharing a now notorious image of Rees-Mogg lounging on the Commons benches, Labour MP Jim McMahon added: “I don't think Labour MP's need to be told to work a bit harder by Jacob Rees-Mogg, I doubt he's done a hard day’s work in his life.

“The government constantly believes the rules and guidance they set apply to everyone else but themselves.”