'International laughing stock': MPs made to form 'mile-long conga' outside Parliament to vote

Members of Parliament, including Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, queue outside the House of Commons in Westminster, London, as they wait to vote on the future of proceedings, amid a row over how Commons business can take place safely. (Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Jacob Rees-Mogg, left, in the huge queue outside the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday. (Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)

A Labour frontbencher has said the government has “lost its marbles” after MPs were forced to form a massive queue outside Parliament in order to vote.

MP Tan Dhesi told Yahoo News UK that Boris Johnson’s administration has made the UK an “international laughing stock” following the bizarre scenes in Westminster on Tuesday afternoon.

MPs were made to return to Parliament to decide on a new voting method during the coronavirus pandemic, after House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dropped procedures which allowed them to vote online and speak remotely via Zoom.

The queue from the Commons chamber stretched for several hundred metres as MPs followed social distancing measures. It snaked through Westminster Hall and ran to Portcullis House, which is across the road from Parliament and holds many MPs’ offices.

After spending an hour queueing, shadow railways minister and Slough MP Dhesi told this website: “It was a mile-long conga, absolutely farcical.

Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer (C) and other MPS are pictured queuing in a courtyard on the parliamentary estate to vote on the motion of 'Proceedings during the pandemic', in the socially-distanced House of Commons in London on June 2, 2020, relating to voting procedure during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Hundreds of MPs formed a lengthy physical queued to vote on the motion to abandon remote voting and use a new system where the MPs form a predetermined queue and slowly file through the lower elected parliamentary chamber to cast their ballots while keeping apart to avoid the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, centre, in the queue outside the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday. (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s a waste of our time. In this day and age, there are much better ways to be voting.”

He said the government has “lost its marbles”, with Tuesday’s scenes making the nation an “international laughing stock”.

Dhesi went on: “Because of the way the government has dealt with the pandemic, we have become a classic case study of how not to be dealing with a pandemic.” The UK has the second highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.

“Now, whether it’s bringing the hybrid parliament to an end, whether it’s voting... the whole situation is farcical and has made us a complete laughing stock.”

Referring to MPs’ workloads, Dhesi added: “Everybody’s busy, they’ve got 50 other things to do. What they don’t want to be doing is waiting in queues for an hour at a time.”

MPs ultimately approved the government’s motion to only allow them to vote in person by 261 votes to 163, a majority of 98.

A number of Labour MPs also reacted furiously after an afternoon of queueing.

Deputy leader and Ashton-under-Lyme MP Angela Rayner accused Rees-Mogg of dropping the virtual proceedings to help Boris Johnson get backing during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Backbencher and Ilford North MP Wes Streeting, meanwhile, said it was his most unproductive day since the lockdown began.

Even Conservative backbencher Steve Baker, the MP for Wycombe, spoke out against his Brexit ally Rees-Mogg, saying the queuing situation was a “complete farce”.

Conservative MP Karen Bradley, who chairs the procedure committee, moved an amendment to try and keep remote voting in place in the coming weeks, with several Conservative MPs rebelling to support the proposal.

But it was defeated by 185 votes to 242, a majority of 57.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle had said the queuing system would continue if MPs supported it, as it is the “only method that is compatible” with government-set social distancing requirements and those from Public Health England.

However, Labour MP Charlotte Nichols posted a picture suggesting MPs had been unable to maintain the government’s two-metre advice.

Rees-Mogg said: “The stopgap of a hybrid Parliament was a necessary compromise during the peak of the virus, but by not being here the House has not worked effectively on behalf of constituents.”

He added he expects “teething problems” with the new voting system because of the queuing, adding it will be “some time before our proceedings are fully restored”.

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