Pub-goers should “go back to drinking a yard of ale” to mark pubs reopening in England while maintaining social distancing rules, Jacob Rees-Mogg says.
The Commons leader told MPs: “If they drink a yard of ale they will maintain social distancing while enjoying an extra large drink.”
The PM announced this week that pubs would be able to reopen on 4 July.
And the 2m social distancing rule will be reduced to “1m plus” – which is just over a yard.
On 20 March, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes were asked to shut in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Now, cafes and restaurants will also be able to reopen in England on 4 July.
In Scotland, beer gardens and outdoor restaurants will be allowed to reopen from 6 July. Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to use indoor areas from 15 July.
In Northern Ireland, pubs and restaurants can open from 3 July.
In Wales, there are no dates yet for the reopening of pubs, but the Welsh government has promised talks with the sector about a “potential phased” reopening. The next review of Wales’s lockdown measures is due on 9 July.
In the Commons, Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith asked Mr Rees-Mogg what could be done to support the reopening of pubs.
The Commons leader replied: “I think there’s a very easy answer in pubs and that is people should go back to drinking a yard of ale.
“Because if they drink a yard of ale they will maintain social distancing while enjoying an extra large drink to celebrate the fact that they are back in the pub.”
Labour MP Clive Efford asked why pubs were being allowed to reopen from 4 July, but not gyms or outdoor swimming pools.
“I think everybody welcomes the reopening of pubs,” Mr Rees-Mogg replied.
“I think people have been locked in for quite long enough and they want to go and have a drink and that’s a jolly good thing and should be encouraged and welcomed and they will do it safely and properly.
“And I’m slightly disappointed by the honourable gentleman’s slightly curmudgeonly attitude towards pubs being reopened.”
He said the reopening of businesses had to happen “in a phased way”.
“There is a degree of risk that can be taken but that risk has to be managed and measured,” he said.
Tory MP Nickie Aiken, whose constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster includes the West End, called for more support for the theatre sector.
Mr Rees-Mogg replied that social distancing makes staging performances “exceptionally difficult” for theatres and the industry “will need a different approach from other sectors”.
The government is consulting with the industry, medical experts and advisers in the hope a solution can be found, he added.