UK lawmakers queue around parliamentary palace to cast votes

by Reuters
Tuesday, 2 June 2020 17:22 GMT

By William James

LONDON, June 2 (Reuters) - Hundreds of British lawmakers spent over an hour in kilometer-long queues through the ostentatious corridors and halls of the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday, casting their first ever socially-distanced votes.

The government has ditched the coronavirus-induced measures introduced in April and May that tore up centuries of tradition by allowing remote voting and debates by video conference.

On Tuesday, lawmakers were required to attend in person and join a queue, spaced two metres (6.6 feet) apart, that stretched out of the wood-panelled debating chamber, zigzagged through an 11th-century hall where monarchs and prime ministers have lain in state, and outside into a tree-lined courtyard.

They voted 261-163 in favour of the government's plan to end the so-called hybrid parliament and restore a system that requires all those who wish to vote to attend in person.

"Voting while enjoying a sunny walk or whilst watching television does democracy an injustice...We ask members to vote in person for a reason: because it is the heart of what parliament is about," House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

Unless a better method can be found, every vote will now involve the long queues that critics dismissed as a farce, and some on Twitter dubbed the #ReesMoggConga.

The first vote that rejected keeping the hybrid arrangements took 46 minutes, slowed down by many lawmakers being uncertain what to do when they reached the front of the queue. A second vote to approve the government plan took 36 minutes.

"A total farce ... This is supposed to be a functioning parliamentary democracy, not a theme park," opposition Labour lawmaker Afzal Khan said on Twitter.

Parliament speaker Lindsay Hoyle directed proceedings with growing frustration, instructing each lawmaker to state their name and their vote as they passed his chair.

Normally lawmakers vote by walking through crowded lobbies and having their names ticked off a list in a process that takes about 15 minutes. That has been ruled unsafe - a risk of coronavirus contagion.

Many, including a group of rebels in the governing Conservative Party, objected to the decision to end flexible working arrangements. They said it disenfranchised those who are unable to attend parliament.

Rees-Mogg argued the hybrid system was too slow at processing legislation and nullified the cut and thrust of the adversarial debating chamber. (Reporting by William James Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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