Keep parliament open

Amid the coronavirus crisis we need more scrutiny and debate, not less.

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Britain is on a national lockdown. Deeply draconian legislation is being rushed through parliament, handing the government powers of a kind that haven’t been seen in peace time. And once that bill becomes law today, parliament will be suspended, for at least four weeks, in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus. This should concern anyone who cares about our liberal, democratic traditions and making sure the government is properly scrutinised during this extraordinary period.

An emergency motion for parliament to rise is due to be passed at the end of today. While in practice this means MPs will simply start the Easter recess a week early, when it would return to full working order is unclear. As The Times’ Matt Chorley reported this morning, according to today’s order paper, ‘parliament will have to return on 21 April, but this could just mean a statement from Boris Johnson before another possible suspension’.

Of course, earlier scenes of MPs crammed together on the green benches hardly sent the right message in this time of enforced social distancing. Parliament cannot carry on functioning as normal. But it’s unclear what efforts are underway to try to keep its crucial democratic functions operating. As Chorley notes, the speaker of the Commons has warned that parliament’s tech teams have already been struggling to provide video-conferencing for select committees.

Regardless, a way through must be found that allows MPs to discharge their democratic duties in a safe way. In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, in which the government has just handed itself unprecedented powers, our rulers must be scrutinised and the public must have a voice. We have been asked to give up so many of our day-to-day freedoms to fight the coronavirus – democratic accountability must not be watered down as well.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Lyn Keay

27th March 2020 at 12:48 pm

It’s interesting to see that MPs can pass the most draconian piece of emergency legislation in history and then give up on holding the executive to account. It’s clear that they didn’t do it for their own personal safety but to send a message about social distancing. Yet, they clearly don’t consider themselves to be key workers. They see the jobs of cleaners, utility staff, NHS staff and biscuit factory workers as more important than the job of representing those people. Yet, somehow they want to be paid a bundle more than them. When we’re “all in it together” paying for this debacle I wonder how many of them will demand to be paid the same as the people who kept them fed and watered on their extended holidays.

Stephen J

26th March 2020 at 5:44 pm

Perhaps parliament should reconvene in the baggage hall at Heathrow that still receives incoming flights from China, Italy, and Iran?

Rhetoric.

James Knight

25th March 2020 at 6:57 pm

Hilarious to hear how happy Owen Jones is to be be under house arrest under a right wing Tory government.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

25th March 2020 at 10:47 pm

And even funnier to behold the sight of a right-wing Tory government enacting the most socialist legislation in British history over the last 300 years. Jones is probably happy because the Tories have been made to do his work for him. Half the UK population are now effectively state employees and the railways have been nationalised (probably for good). It will now be extremely difficult for the Tories not to increase public health spending massively on a permanent basis. It will also be much harder for US pharma etc. companies to asset strip and r ape the NHS after Brexit as the British public will not tolerate it (rightly so). Universal basic income will also become a more serious proposition. It looks like corona virus will have some positive outcomes.

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