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The Breakfast Briefing: MP anger over Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ‘Darwinian’ plan for Commons return

The Breakfast Briefing: MP anger over Jacob Rees-Mogg’s ‘Darwinian’ plan for Commons return

MPs have been told to set a ‘national example’ by returning to the Commons.

4 min read

Your essential morning guide to what’s moving in Westminster from the PoliticsHome team

An almighty row is brewing over the Government’s insistence that MPs should get themselves back to Parliament as the lockdown is eased.

The Commons’ army of digital experts pulled all-nighters to get the part-virtual Parliament up-and-running, and the results have been remarkable. PMQs, complete with Ian Blackford beamed in live via videolink, has been smooth if a little eerie, and select committees have arguably done a better job of getting stuck into the detail on a remote basis.
But Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg wants MPs to start “leading by example”, saying “it is essential that we move back to physical ways of working as quickly as possible“. For some MPs, that will be a welcome return to the workplace they love, and a sign that the tide is turning in the battle against the coronavirus.
However, as Georgina Bailey of The House magazine reveals this morning, there is a growing backlash from Parliamentarians angry at what they see as a divisive move concerned more with messaging than the practicalities.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who is disabled and considered in an at-risk group for Covid-19, warns of an “apartheid Parliament” if the virtual set-up is not kept in place. "It cannot be a Darwinian Parliament,” he says. “It is not a Parliament for survival of the fittest, it’s a Parliament for everybody.”
Halfon is not alone in his concerns either - Labour’s Chris Bryant says the Government risks sending “a bad message to employers” who might be pressuring staff to come back into their workplaces before they’ve made the right adjustments. The SNP’s Angus MacNeil goes even further, branding the “gung-ho” push from the Government “totalitarian” - and he makes clear that he’ll be staying put in the Outer Hebrides, thank you very much.

I’m old enough to remember how people sneered when BuzzFeed started doing UK politics coverage

Away from SW1, there was some rare good news last night on the wider fight to contain the virus, as Public Health England gave the go-ahead for an antibody test developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche to be rolled out nationwide.

The test, which will see if a person has developed antibodies to the disease rather than simply whether they currently have coronavirus, has been hailed as a “very positive development” by the UK’s testing coordinator Professor John Newton. The Department of Health has confirmed it is now “actively working on our plans for rolling out antibody testing” across the country.
That will be a welcome relief for Boris Johnson, who spent yesterday locked in a bitter row with Keir Starmer over the crisis unfolding in Britain’s care homes - while his party was forced to deny that a public sector pay freeze is on the cards to help meet the mounting cost of the pandemic to the UK finances.

While studiously avoiding commenting on fiscal policy, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey last night told ITV’s Robert Peston the central bank’s move to buy up £200bn of government debt would give ministers “choices” about whether to go down back down a path of austerity or “spread over time the cost of this thing to society”.
One final note this morning: It’s very hard to think of a team of journalists who have done as much to up our collective game as BuzzFeed. Its UK arm, closing its doors amid the downturn, has consistently put out original, thoughtful, and increasingly agenda-setting reporting - less bothered about sticking rigidly to a formula and more focused on telling a good story.

I’m old enough to remember how people sneered when BuzzFeed started doing UK politics coverage. Now the rest of us try our best to keep up. Wishing the whole team there the very best from us at PolHome.

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