03/06/2020 14:01 BST

MPs Vulnerable To Coronavirus Promised Proxy Votes In Government Climbdown

Boris Johnson announces retreat following Tory rebellion over axing of online voting.

MP's queuing up to vote in the House of Commons in Westminster, London, on the first day that they returned from recess.

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

MPs who are especially vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic have been promised they can vote in parliament by proxy, Boris Johnson has said following a significant Tory rebellion.

The government yesterday axed the system that allowed MPs to vote online.

It was introduced as a temporary measure to enable parliament to function during lockdown.

But critics of the decision to end online voting warned it meant MPs who are shielding or self-isolating due to age, disability, health or pregnancy, would be disenfranchised as it would not be safe for them to travel to parliament to vote in person.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it would place many at a “significant disadvantage”.

In total 31 Conservative MPs, including the chair of the Commons equalities committee Caroline Nokes, voted against the government.

Speaking during PMQs on Wednesday, Keir Starmer said scrapping the ability for MPs to vote online was “completely unnecessary and unacceptable”.

“If any other employer behaved like this it would be a clear and obvious case of indirect discrimination under the Equalities Act,” the Labour leader said. “Stop this.”

In response, Johnson announced a partial climbdown.

“I apologise to those who have particular difficulties because they are shielding or because they are elderly,” the prime minister said. “They should be able to vote by proxy.”

The change means MPs who are shielding will be allowed to nominate a colleague to vote on their behalf.

Last year the system was introduced to help politicians on parental leave who would not be able to attend parliament in person.

To ensure social distancing, MPs will now have to join a long and winding Alton Towers-style queue through parliament’s grounds and buildings in order to vote. Labour MP Ian Byrne dubbed the proceedings “batshit”.