MPs protest at ‘dangerous’ plans to force them back into the Commons during coronavirus crisis

Jacob Rees-Mogg during a debate in the House of Commons. Photograph: Parliament TV.

Jacob Rees-Mogg during a debate in the House of Commons. Photograph: Parliament TV. - Credit: Archant

MPs and their staff across the political divide have claimed government plans to force them back into the Commons during the coronavirus crisis are 'dangerous'.

MPs from opposition parties - including the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats - say the move by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg would put them in harms way and contradict social distancing rules still enforced in Scotland and Wales.

Rees-Mogg is planning to wind-down virtual Commons debates in order to encourage MPs to return to parliament by June, newspaper reports suggest.

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'It is clear that soon parliament must set an example of how we move back gradually to a fully-function country again - our constituents would expect nothing less,' he told the Commons.

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'So while we must move in step with public health guidance, it is vital that when we are asking other people to work and go to their places of work if they cannot do so from home we should not be the ones who are exempt from that. Indeed, we should be leading by example.'

But MPs argue the move puts their lives, and the lives of their constituents, at risk. The SNP's Philippa Whitford wrote on Twitter: 'Crazy! HoC (House of Commons) chamber only allows 50 MPs at safe distance - virtual chamber can add 120'.

The representative for Central Ayrshire added: 'No mention of MPs in shielding or vulnerable groups who will be disenfranchised! Just remember the packed chamber on Budget Day, 11/3/20 - day #COVID19 declared #Pandemic.'

Greens peer Jenny Jones agreed, tweeting: 'God he is a twit. A dangerous twit. Other bits of his govt are telling us to work from home if we can. Many MPs will benefit from having more time in their constituencies, with their constituents.

John Nicholson, SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, claimed a full return would 'set the wrong example' to break coronavirus guidelines in Scotland, while Lib Dems MP Wendy Chamberlain said the change could mean parliamentarians carry the disease from Westminster back to their constituencies.

'Perhaps most worryingly of all, MPs and staff would be further filling up public transport networks and presumably travelling back and forth to communities all over the country,' she said before emphasising there had been no official advice on how MPs would keep a 2 meter distance during packed chamber debates.

A Labour staffer told POLITICO that a sizable number of MPs are over 70 and that they would not be able to return under the new plans.

A government source has clarified that virtual debates were only ever intended as a temporary measure and argued the urgency to reconvene was because MPs were essential workers.

They said: 'MPs are critical workers so nationwide and throughout they have been encouraged to go to work if they cannot work from home.'

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