‘Not safe’ for MPs to travel to Westminster over Christmas period, SNP warns

Ministers have been warned it is “not safe” for MPs to travel to Westminster over the Christmas period.

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has yet to announce when MPs will break for Christmas given uncertainty over the Brexit talks, and the need for Parliament to be sitting should any agreement on future arrangements between the UK and EU need ratifying.

But the SNP insisted all MPs must be allowed to take part in Commons business virtually due to the health risks posed by travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Rees-Mogg last week left open the prospect of the Commons rising hours before Christmas Day and warned it would be “absolutely disgraceful” if the House was not able to enable any ratification.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said the Commons could sit as late as Christmas Eve should it be required to pass Brexit legislation.

Under current plans, Sir Lindsay expects the Commons will stop sitting on December 21 – but he told Sky News that recess could be delayed.

Speaking in the Commons, SNP chief whip Patrick Grady said: “The Health Secretary stood at the despatch box yesterday and said there was a new strain of Covid and people shouldn’t travel to Tier 3 areas – to a room full of people who had done exactly that.

“If there is any possibility of the House sitting next week or being recalled over Christmas, there has to be virtual participation for everyone because it’s not safe to travel and given the East Coast Main Line is going to be closed – it’s not going to be possible for most people to travel.”

Mr Rees-Mogg earlier announced a change to parliamentary business, with all stages of the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill to be considered on Wednesday.

He explained that the Government is ensuring that any legislation required before the end of the Brexit transition period can be approved by MPs.

He also told Mr Grady: “I did warn members last Thursday, as I thought it was only fair to do so, that we might have to act flexibly to developments in what is going on.”

On virtual participation, Mr Rees-Mogg highlighted opposition MPs talking out a motion to extend Zoom participation in debates to those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

He also told MPs he will make a further statement about future business on Thursday.