Moment minister breaks coronavirus rules with handshake before Boris Johnson meeting

  • Ben Wallace caught breaking his own government’s social distancing rules as he shakes hands with unknown man before cabinet meeting

  • Defence secretary apologises for “slipping up” and promises to be “extra careful in future”

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A cabinet minister has been caught shaking hands in a breach of his own government’s social distancing rules.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace shook hands with an unknown man before entering the Foreign Office for Tuesday morning’s cabinet meeting held by Boris Johnson.

Wallace was smiling as he greeted the man, though his smile quickly disappeared as he approached a group of photographers outside the building.

Rules issued by the PM state that people from different households should stay “one metre plus” apart in order to restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Ben Wallace shaking hands before Tuesday's cabinet meeting. (Sky News)
Ben Wallace shaking hands before Tuesday's cabinet meeting. (Sky News)

Meanwhile, the government’s social distancing guidance states: “You should continue to avoid close contact and remain socially distant from anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble – even inside other people’s homes.”

The cabinet meeting was held at the Foreign Office – rather than 10 Downing Street – so it could take place in a bigger room and allow ministers to following the social distancing rules that Wallace broke outside.

The government later acknowledged Wallace’s blunder, with a spokesperson saying: “The secretary of state recognises the mistake and apologises for slipping up.

“He know the importance of social distancing and will be extra careful in future.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01: Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence arrives back on Downing Street after a Cabinet meeting in the FCO on September 01, 2020 in London, England. MPs returned to Westminster today following the summer recess. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Ben Wallace after the cabinet meeting on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

It comes amid evidence COVID-19 infections are starting to increase again. On Sunday, 1,715 new cases were recorded in the UK, the highest daily number since 31 May.

However, this is still far away from the peak of the outbreak in April, a month which regularly saw more than 4,000 infections a day.

Meanwhile, Johnson himself is facing fresh pressure from his backbenches as MPs returned to Westminster on Tuesday following the summer recess.

The PM has come under fire for presiding over a series of U-turns, including on exam results and face coverings in schools, over the last few weeks.

After months of what one Tory MP said had been a “megadisaster from one day to the next”, many are demanding reassurances from ministers.

A senior Conservative MP told PA that backbenchers were “tired of the U-turns”.

“There’s that element of calamity, and frankly there are people from the ‘red wall’ seats who are getting jittery. But not only red wall seats, but other people who haven’t got marginal seats like that.

“We’d like to be in a government that has the impression of being competent, rather than lurching from one issue to another and then after a short time doing a U-turn.”

He said MPs were left with “egg on their face” each time they defended government policy to constituents, and then had to reverse their stance.

The backbencher urged the government to say it would be “more careful in decision making” to avoid U-turns, and called for clarity on tax policy to “avoid the Tory Party having a public row”.

It was reported over the weekend that chancellor Rishi Sunak was considering tax hikes to plug a hole left in public finances by the pandemic.

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