Conservative councillors say they walked out of a Gedling council meeting after ‘disorderly’ Labour councillors raised concerns about not wearing face coverings while in the chamber.
The spat occurred during a full council meeting at Gedling Borough Council’s Civic Centre earlier this evening.
Speaking to NottinghamshireLive, council leader councillor John Clarke, Labour, said “arrogant” Conservative members had been sitting in the chamber without a face covering.
However, responding, Conservative councillors Sam Smith and Mike Adams hit back saying Labour members had “interjected” in a “disorderly” manner as proceedings were taking place, arguing face coverings were not mandatory once everyone was seated.
As a result, seven of eight Conservative councillors left the meeting before proceedings had finished, during item 10 on the agenda.
Tweeting his frustration at Conservative members, Cllr Clarke said: “Gedling Tories refuse to wear face masks in full council, then all walk out of meeting.
“Only one Tory stayed in his seat and wore a mask. It was very disappointing to see their action tonight, particularly in light of fact that we’ve lost at least 340 people to COVID-19 in Gedling.”
Nottinghamshire Live spoke to both sides following the dispute.
Labour councillor Michael Payne, the deputy leader of the council, quoted the current face mask regulations from the Government which state: “You are expected to wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it.
“You should also wear a face covering in indoor places not listed here where social distancing may be difficult and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.”
He argued it was a “tight squeeze” in the council chamber and said “it was a bit of a toys out of the pram moment”.
Never miss another Nottinghamshire story with our free email updates
If you want to make sure you’re in the loop with what’s happening locally, subscribe to our free email updates.
We’ll send you daily Nottinghamshire Live newsletters, plus breaking news as it happens, directly to your inbox.
All you have to do is head to this page and select the newsletters you want to receive – or enter your email into the black box at the top of this story.
Responding on behalf of the Gedling Conservatives, councillor Sam Smith and councillor Mike Adams, said: “The legal requirement was fully up-held. Masks were worn by all Conservatives walking in and in public spaces.
“The meeting was held with more than two metres between us. We did not wear a face mask in the meeting which is within legal requirements.
“Do Gedling Borough Council operate by law or is it operating by what Labour councillors dictate?”
Councillor Smith said three Labour councillors had interjected “without raising a point of order”, raising issue with the fact the Conservatives were not wearing face coverings “totally out of the blue” during discussions over the budget.
As a result he said the meeting was halted and became “disorderly and unbusinesslike”, prompting them to leave early.
He added: “Three Labour councillors spoke out of order tonight.
“It was out of the agenda. The votes went ahead without us and that blocks democracy.”
Councillor Smith said a formal complaint has been lodged calling for an investigation into how the mayor, Meredith Lawrence, is advised on points of order during council meetings.
He said no members of the public were in the chamber.
Also speaking to NottinghamshireLive Councillor John Clarke added: “We were told to wear a mask during council meetings, but we are asking for clarity on that. We do not wear them in county hall so there is that.
“It is arrogant. I normally get on with them alright. It is just out of respect for those who are grieving and have lost someone. I am not playing party politics.
“Sam says we did not wear [a mask] at the East Midlands Conference Centre but look at the size of that.
“There needs to be a clear direction on wearing face masks and it seems to change with the wind. There needs to be a bit more clarity from central Government.”