JULIA HARTLEY-BREWER: The images of last weekend's G7 summit in Cornwall have turned the tide in the nation's mood about the pandemic
The images of last weekend's G7 summit in Cornwall have, I believe, turned the tide in the nation's mood about the pandemic. They proved to millions of Britons that the long-perpetrated mantra of 'we're all in this together' under lockdown restrictions is a lie.
For, while the rest of us have been ordered to obey all the minutiae of Covid legislation, our rulers and betters demonstrated that it was a case of 'rules for thee, but not for me'.
One by one, world leaders were seen to arrive at G7 wearing face masks and greeting each other with theatrical elbow-bumps. Yet then they were soon pictured happily drinking and eating together at a barbecue, arms around each other, unmasked faces just inches apart.
The rest of us, whether we agree with the lockdown or not, were left infuriated and flabbergasted by this blatant disregarding of the rules.
Any pub landlord who'd allowed such a large group to behave like this in their pub garden would have risked losing their licence.
So why did our rulers – who've deemed it necessary to impose such severe restrictions on the rest of us – ignore the rules that they have endorsed daily for 15 months as essential to saving our lives?
World leaders were seen happily drinking and eating together at a barbecue, arms around each other, unmasked faces just inches apart
There is, I believe, a simple explanation: They have never believed the rules apply to them and I'm convinced – most shockingly – that they have not actually obeyed them for the past year.
A number of senior sources, including Government Ministers and aides who frequent No 10, have confirmed to me that lockdown rules are flagrantly ignored every day in Downing Street.
While millions of families have been kept apart by Covid restrictions, while thousands of businesses have been destroyed by social distancing requirements, and while the entire population – even children at school – have been forced to wear masks, those working at the heart of our Government have arrogantly flouted their own rules.
Cabinet Ministers, political advisers and officials working in No 10 have not worn masks or obeyed social distancing since early last summer, numerous sources have confirmed.
Many Ministers are very uneasy about this 'do as I say, not as I do' attitude.
The fact is that political staff and civil servants mingle freely in the maze of rooms in Downing Street, where the two metre and one metre rules have, I believe, never been enforced.
'The offices are as full as usual, with desks still next to each other, staff working cheek by jowl,' one frequenter of No 10 told me.
One by one, world leaders were seen to arrive at G7 wearing face masks and greeting each other with theatrical elbow-bumps
'There are a few Perspex screens dotted about but no one bothers using them.' Political aides and officials have also enjoyed social drinks and meals together in a makeshift No 10 cafe at the height of the latest lockdown – while so many other hospitality venues have been closed. I'm told that some senior advisers regularly invited political friends and colleagues to Downing Street drinks under the pretext of work meetings.
AS one source with first-hand knowledge of Government operations said: 'Very few people working in the heart of Government have ever worn masks in No 10 or in most Whitehall departments. They have not missed out on their social lives, as their friends mostly work in politics, too, so they generally socialise together.'
How very different from the rest of the country – on furlough, forced to work from home or made unemployed.
Of course, it is vital that Government continues during a pandemic – indeed, more so than ever – and yet Ministers and their aides ought to lead by example and wear masks and operate social distancing.
Why do they think the rules don't apply to them? Are they uniquely immune to this killer virus?
Alternatively, don't they actually believe the virus is as dangerous as their scaremongering (and taxpayer-funded) advertising campaigns suggest?
Or is it that, as many suspect, they think the rest of us – unlike them – are too foolish to make our own decisions about managing and minimising the risk to ourselves and others?
A furious Whitehall source alerted me to this hypocrisy. They said: 'If those in Downing Street had to wear masks all day, or tried to run a business while sticking to social-distancing rules, or were forced to sit looking at a screen at home all day, would they be slower to keep the rest of us under those restrictions?
'No wonder they don't understand why four more weeks of lockdown is a big deal for so many people, and why it may be a death-blow for countless more businesses.'
If Boris Johnson and his aides believe they can use their own common sense to decide how to keep themselves safe, why do they think that the rest of us are too stupid and irresponsible to use our own judgment, too?
The most fundamental principle of the law is that it must apply equally to everyone. The idea that laws don't apply to the law-makers is for despotic regimes.
In the next few days, the Government is expected to exempt 2,500 Uefa officials, sponsors and wealthy hangers-on from travel quarantine and self-isolation rules to attend the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.
This would simply reinforce the view many of us already have that the British people are being treated as idiots by an arrogant elite who always believe the rules do not apply to them.