BORIS Johnson is facing a revolt from his own MPs over plans to drag them all back to Parliament to vote.
Members are set to vote today on the new plans which could see them snake around the estate in a kilometre long socially distant queue, but many Tory backbenchers are considering voting against the proposals.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg tabled a motion on Monday preventing the resumption of virtual voting, which allowed MPs to have their say from afar during the pandemic.
If the House approves the plan today MPs may have to form kilometre-long queues in order to obey social distancing rules when voting – despite the Lords planning a move to digital only hearings.
Mr Rees-Mogg argued that democracy would “once again flourish”, having been “curtailed under the hybrid halfway house” which allowed MPs to take part in debates and vote remotely while up to 50 were in the chamber. And he insisted that the Government is working to establish how shielding MPs could continue to take part.
Senior Tories including Robert Halfon, the chair of the Commons education committee, who is currently shielding, have called for virtual proceedings to continue for those who need them.
Dame Margaret Hodge, the 75-year-old Labour MP, said she is “furious” that she was being “denied the right to vote” on Tuesday because she is deemed vulnerable.
She accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being on a “mission to end” digital voting, tweeting: “This damaging move will limit accountability & create a toothless Parliament. It means MPs in the ‘vulnerable’ category will be rendered voiceless & it will completely distort votes.”
The Government’s motion requires voting to take place in person at the Palace of Westminster and that MPs must follow Public Health England guidance.
Jamie Stone, a Lib Dem MP also said: “I’m a carer for my wife. You’re asking me to choose between the health of my family and abiding by your poxy stubbornness. I choose to fulfil my duties as a husband and family man.”
The plans have been branded as “beyond a farce” by the Electoral Reform Society, who said: “If this goes ahead, it is beyond a farce. It is unacceptable when there is currently a safe, secure and speedy option for voting available: remote/digital voting. MPs have already used it, and it works.”
“Since some MPs are shielding and are not safe to travel in person, these plans – if confirmed – pose a real threat for democratic representation and political equality.”
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will set out the exact mechanics of the vote with an emphasis on avoiding narrow spaces in Parliament. He has described a single file of MPs snaking through Parliament as a “supermarket queue” that will lead through the centre of the chamber and to the dispatch box.
Mr Rees-Mogg defended the plan and said: “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. In the chamber frontbenchers will have to keep on their toes as interventions are once again made possible.”
“This exceptional aspect of British democracy, curtailed under the hybrid halfway house, can once again flourish. For those MPs with underlying health conditions who have been told to shield or are receiving specific Government advice about their health, the Government is working with the House authorities to see how they can continue to contribute to proceedings within the House.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman added that MPs who need to shield “should continue to do so” and said that informal arrangements such as pairing would be in place to allow this.