POLITICS
02/06/2020 16:00 BST | Updated 02/06/2020 17:05 BST

Jacob Rees-Mogg Forces MPs Into 'Absurd' Giant Socially Distanced Queue To Vote

Commons leader's plans to force MPs to physically vote in Westminster dubbed "Mogg conga" and compared to Alton Towers.

Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has forced MPs into a giant socially distanced queue to vote on whether to end the “hybrid” parliament that allows remote voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

The spectacle, dubbed the “Mogg conga”, came despite Tory disquiet at the Commons leader’s plans to force MPs back to Westminster if they want to vote, while maintaining social distancing.

The first example of the “absurd” new rules saw MPs snaking out of the Commons and into the adjacent Westminster Hall in a queue believed to be up to a kilometre long, before walking into the chamber and telling Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle how they were voting.

Other MPs were forced to form a queue stretching to Portcullis House, which is on the other side of Westminster Bridge to the historic Palace of Westminster, which contains the Commons.

Labour MP Ian Byrne dubbed the proceedings “batshit”.

But after around 40 minutes of MPs queuing while social distancing, Rees-Mogg won the key vote rejecting an amendment, which would have restored remote voting, by 242 votes to 185, majority of 57.

It means Commons votes will continue in the same fashion for the foreseeable future despite a significant Tory rebellion of dozens of MPs.

Rees-Mogg defied warnings from MPs and the independent Equality and Human Rights Commission, which said his plans “significantly disadvantage” those who are shielding or self-isolating because they are vulnerable to Covid-19 due to age, disability, health conditions or pregnancy, as well as those dealing with travel restrictions and caring responsibility.

As MPs debated the measures, Labour’s Chris Bryant compared the new voting system to queues for rides at Alton Towers, and asked if Rees-Mogg had ever been.

The Commons leader replied: “Indeed, yes I have, I took my sister Annunziata there many years ago.

“Enough of my reminisces because it is important that we protect, preserve, prioritise our parliamentary democracy – it has to continue regardless of the disease that is afflicting the nation.”

Ex-cabinet minister and procedure committee chair Karen Bradley led Tory criticism of Rees-Mogg’s plans, which she said were “far from optimal”.

She also also highlighted a conversation that she had with Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who was advised by his doctor that he must not attend parliament for health reasons.

“The idea that we decide today to disenfranchise him completely seems to me to be absurd,” Bradley said.

Tory ex-chancellor Sajid Javid was also among the critics, urging the government to “think again”.

For Labour, shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz questioned if Rees-Mogg was “living in another universe” as the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing.

Vaz also asked whether a risk assessment had been conducted for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) parliamentary staff required back on the estate, who are more at risk of dying from coronavirus than their white counterparts.

She asked: “Can he guarantee that members and House staff are going to be safe? It may be Covid-19 secure but there is movement... we could be silent spreaders.

“What the leader of the House is proposing is discriminatory – the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said so.”

Rees-Mogg said the government “will of course” look at whether there are faster ways for votes to take place.

But he insisted: “It is important for votes to be physical because we are coming here together as a single parliament and we are voting on things that have a major effect on people’s lives, every piece of legislation affects people’s lives in one way or another.”

The Commons leader also said voting should not be done “quietly or secretly”.