In what has been dubbed the “Rees-Mogg conga” by Labour’s Chief Whip Nick Brown, the former chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group is pushing for a system which critics claim will result in a kilometre-long queue as members observe social distancing rules which will keep them two metres apart. Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow, who has cerebral palsy and who is therefore in the shielding group, today launched an angry attack on the plan, which will preclude him for voting. He said: “Clearly in this case sadly Jacob and the powers that be are being harsh and unbending.
They take the attitude of President Bolsonaro that COVID-19 is just the sniffles
“The MPs who genuinely cannot come in, our democratic rights are being snipped away and we’re being turned into parliamentary eunuchs.
“They take the attitude of President Bolsonaro that COVID-19 is just the sniffles and, if you can’t come in, tough luck, we don’t care. And that to me is entirely wrong.”
Mr Halfon added: “Not only will the hundreds of MPs, who for one reason or another will not be able to come in because they are affected by COVID-19, will not only be denied their fundamental rights but their constituents will not have a voice in Parliament because they will not be able to vote.
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Robert Halfon said Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plan will leave him unable to vote
Robert Halfon, who has cerebral palsy, speaks via video link during a recent debate
“I genuinely am mystified why they will not even allow proxy voting.”
Mr Halfon was far from alone in criticising the proposals.
Former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers told the BBC: “The obvious most difficult practical issue is voting, and clearly, if there is going to be a kilometre-long queue, we have to find another system.
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Jacob Rees-Mogg speaks in the council chamber
“Personally, I could happily live with electronic voting continuing for a period if there isn’t a workable alternative.”
Another senior Tory said: “Jacob has dug himself into a hole.
“He doesn’t want to contemplate online voting becoming a permanent fixture so they’re taking a sledgehammer to a walnut.”
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Labour’s Margaret Hodge tweeted about the issue
Margaret Hodge said she was “furious” at being unable to vote
Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking and Dagenham, tweeted last night: “Tomorrow the Govt wants 650 MPs to stand in a giant queue to vote on how the Commons makes decisions from now on.
“As somebody in the ‘vulnerable’ category, I am unable to join them.
“I am furious that for the first time in my 25 years as an MP I am being denied the right to vote!”
Current social distancing rules
Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson tweeted: “Thanks to @Jacob_Rees_Mogg, I’m heading back into Westminster, putting my husband who’s on immuno-suppressants at greater risk, despite virtual parl working well.
“I”ll be joining 1km+ queue of MPs to vote to keep remote participation so everyone can represent their constituents.”
The Politico website has suggested Mr Rees-Mogg’s proposals have come as a surprise to everyone, with one official saying: “Nobody in Government knew about this until it was announced.”
Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow in Essex
Mr Rees-Mogg himself gave an indication of his determination to push the changes through yesterday in an article published on the Politics Home website.
He wrote: “The virtual Parliament brought us through the peak of the pandemic but it is no longer necessary to make the compromises it demanded. We can do so much better.”
He later tweeted: “If Parliament is to deliver on the people’s priorities it must sit physically.”