SOME people find Jacob Rees-Mogg’s buffoonery funny. A political Laurel to Boris Johnson’s Hardy. But the plans he’s unveiled for Westminster’s return are anything but amusing.
MPs have been participating in Parliament remotely for weeks. And we’ve been voting electronically. It’s worked well. Or at least it’s worked well for everybody but Boris Johnson. Without an audience of screaming Tory backbenchers cheering on his every utterance, he’s looked bereft – a bumbling panto act on an empty stage.
Something had to be done to rescue him from weekly humiliation at Prime Minister’s Questions. He needed his guffawing entourage back, and the result is a parliamentary outrage. Rejecting opposition proposals for a compromise, the UK Government has said that MPs “may only participate physically within the Parliamentary estate” – plans so detached from reality they are dangerous, even by Rees-Mogg’s preposterous standards.
READ MORE: Scottish MPs locked out of Westminster as virtual voting axed
Apparently unironically, the Leader of the House has called upon MPs – many of whom are shielding for health reasons – to invoke “British resolution and fortitude in these difficult times” by travelling hundreds of miles to Westminster during a pandemic, only to do in person what last week they did on their smartphones The barmy plans would see 650 MPs required to queue in a 1.2-kilometre line to ensure that a requisite two metres of distance can be maintained between them – a process expected to take more than two and a half hours FOR EACH VOTE. This compared to the 15 minutes it takes to vote electronically – the effective system now abandoned by the Leader of the House, a middle-aged child who continues to play a starring role in an 18th century costume drama of his own imagination.
Given the Speaker has already made it clear he will limit the number of MPs on the green benches to 50, and will not hesitate to call an end to proceedings if he thinks they have become unsafe, it’s completely pointless and reckless to insist that six hundred additional MPs who will not be allowed into the Chamber should be forced to make weekly trips to London, risking spreading the virus to each other and then throughout their communities in every corner of the UK.
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The plans will effectively disenfranchise Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, disabled and ill MPs, who face being locked out of Parliament to satisfy the fetishes of Rees-Mogg and his out-of-touch band of fundamentalists in the Conservative Party. It is an affront to public health, common sense and democracy.
Not only do the plans ride roughshod over Scotland’s public health guidance (and indeed that of the UK Government) which is unequivocal: work from home where possible. Jacob Rees-Mogg still believes Parliament must return to “set an example” to the British public, even as he and his colleagues refuse to do so themselves.