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Jacob Rees-Mogg in climbdown over Commons Covid-19 return as MPs given proxy votes ‘for medical or public health reasons’

The ‘hybrid’ Parliament was set up to allow MPs to debate and vote while staying away from Westminster.

2 min read

The Government has changed tack on its plan to only allow MPs who are actively shielding from the coronavirus to let someone else vote on their behalf.

Ministers had come under fire for not extending proxy voting — where another MP casts a ballot on behalf of an absent member — to those with caring responsibilities as it scrapped large elements of the virtual Parliament set up during the pandemic.

Liberal Democrat MP Jamie Stone, who has cared for his wife for 21 years, said being denied the right to vote remotely had left his constituents “silenced”.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has said MPs should return to the chamber in a bid to show the same “British resolution and fortitude in these difficult times” as other workers.

But, in a fresh climbdown, the Government has tabled an amendment to the proxy voting changes which will open them up to more MPs during the coronavirus outbreak.

A fresh amendment tabled by the Government ditches the requirement that proxy voting only apply because MPs “themselves are at high risk from coronavirus for reasons that they are either ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ or ‘clinically vulnerable’”.

Instead, it replaces it with a statement that MPs will be able to cast proxy votes if they cannot attend “for medical or public health reasons related to the pandemic”.

The change marks the latest shift in the Government’s position on the return of the Commons.

While it had initially sought to scrap the virtual Parliament set-up entirely, MPs have since been allowed to take part in debates remotely. 

However, they must still physically attend the Commons or arrange a proxy ballot in order to cast votes. 

Responding to the change, Liberal Democrat frontbencher Alistair Carmichael told PoliticsHome: “This climb down is a win for carers and others affected indirectly by Covid-19.

"I am glad that we were able to convince the government to give in and allow MPs who are carers to vote by proxy. It is just a shame that it took the Liberal Democrats calling an emergency debate to get Jacob Rees Mogg to see sense.

"If the Government had worked with the other parties by consensus we could have come to a better solution weeks ago.

"Instead they tried to rule by diktat and then retreated line-by-line. This is just another example of the opposition having to clean up after the Tories’ mistakes.”

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