Jacob Rees-Mogg has been branded a ‘Victorian mill owner’ for asking MPs to return to Westminster before the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael said the leader of the Commons was behaving in an ‘outrageous’ way and said his party would not be physically returning to parliament.
Rees-Mogg said it would be wrong for MPs to ‘hide away whilst schoolchildren are going back’
The Tory MP told MPs: ‘The intention is for schools to go back. How can we say to our schoolchildren, ‘you’re safe going back’, some of them, but that we’re not, that we’re going to hide away whilst schoolchildren are going back – is that the right message to give to our constituents?
‘Are we a people set apart, a special class who are exempt from what the rest of the country are doing? No, we are not, we are the leaders of our nation and we have a responsibility, that responsibility falls on us to come back.’
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But Carmichael said it would be wrong to put families and communities at risk while the pandemic continues.
He said: ‘I’m not going to put my family or my community at risk just because Jacob Rees-Mogg has an aversion to modernity.
‘He’s like a Victorian mill owner having a bit of a spat because his gentleman’s club has run out of his favourite claret, that is no way to run a modern parliament.’
He added: ‘We believe that the House of Commons is a forum for the whole of the United Kingdom and accordingly we cannot leave it simply to people who are within driving distance of London to govern.
‘We are determined to continue to represent our constituents and we do that through the virtual parliament.’
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has insisted he will suspend Commons proceedings if they get too crowded after the government pressed for MPs to return within weeks.
He told MPs: ‘My priority and the priority of all, I’m sure, is to ensure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated.
‘I’m working with parties, the Commission to ensure this duty of care is taken seriously.
‘Nothing in the leader’s announcement changes the position on social distancing in and around the chamber and throughout the parliamentary estate – only changes to the guidance from Public Health England can do that, I think we’re all agreed on that.
‘I may suspend sittings between items of business to allow safe access to and exit the chamber. I’m also quite prepared to suspend a sitting if I believe the safe number of honourable members in the chamber risks being exceeded.’