Shetland MP blasts return to Parliament as ‘error of judgement of potentially catastrophic magnitude’

The physical return of Parliament has damaged its reputation and “exposed it to ridicule around the world”, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said.

Mr Carmichael has been leading the revolt against the return of Parliament, which has been widely criticised as unnecessary and potentially dangerous during the pandemic.

Parliament had been taking place virtually during lockdown but resumed last week following calls by Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Speaking during the emergency debate he had called yesterday (Monday), Mr Carmichael highlighted members “queueing round the block” to vote.

He also highlighted concerns over business minister Alok Sharma, who looked ill at the dispatch box last week despite later testing negative for Covid-19.

“As I said when I made the application on Thursday last week, the outcome of the test was not the relevant issue,” Mr Carmichael said.

“The sight of the right honourable  gentleman at the dispatch box, and the reaction to that among us all and among the watching public, should have been a wake-up call to the leader of the house and to the government. It is entirely regrettable that it was not.”

Fellow Liberal Democrat, Layla Moran, said she had received “countless emails” from constituents worried she had become a “super spreader”.

“It is utterly irresponsible, and surely we should not have to choose between the health of our constituents and our ability to do our jobs,” she said.

Conservative MPs defended the move, however.

Jonathan Gullis, MP for Stoke on Trent, said it was “extremely important” that Parliament meets physically.

Although Mr Carmichael acknowledged the virtual arrangements had been “sub-optimal”, he added the costs of retuning to parliament outweighed the benefits.

He pleaded with Mr Rees-Mogg to “change his mind and do his duty”.

Responding, Mr Rees-Mogg said he was “sympathetic’ to the concerns.

However he said parliament should “lead by example”.

“Parliament must send a clear message to the country: we are getting on with our work as best we can during a period of great challenge, just like everyone else,” he added.

“That is the spirit in which I encourage all members to view our proceedings during the pandemic.

“We recognise that there are difficulties, but we are showing leadership to the nation in persisting in our purpose.

“We are doing our duty in leading the way. Our constituents will not entertain the notion that we should ask parents to send their children back to school while we choose to remain at home.”

Concluding the debate, Mr Carmichael again criticised the move, saying it was an “error of judgement of potentially catastrophic magnitude”.

“It is a judgement, ultimately, for which the leader of the house may have to be responsible,” he added.

“I hope there will be no doubt about that should this all go wrong.”

The government had backtracked slightly on the return of Parliament last week when it was agreed that vulnerable MPs will be able to vote by proxy.


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