It would be “quite difficult” to argue that MPs should be an equal priority for a Covid-19 vaccination as police and teachers, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
The Government intends to have offered a vaccine to those in the top nine priority groups by the spring, with all those aged over 50 and people with underlying health conditions given the opportunity to have a jab by then.
Senior police, including Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, and teaching unions have argued that officers and teachers should be the next cohort to be prioritised by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers on the vaccine programme.
Commons Leader Mr Rees-Mogg, asked whether MPs should also be among the first in line during the second phase of the rollout, suggested he did not think “special treatment” for elected representatives would go down well with voters.
Mr Rees-Mogg told the Procedure Committee that, while he thought virtual participation in Parliament was a “second-rate way of doing business” and had weakened Government scrutiny, democracy had still been able to continue.
Addressing the question about prioritising MPs for a vaccine, he said: “I think it is a very difficult argument to make.
“I’m 51. I think it is quite hard to argue, other than ‘This is what the experts tell us’, that I deserve priority over a school teacher.
“To say that MPs generically deserve priority over school teachers or police officers, what would our constituents think of that?
“I’m very keen to get Parliament back – I think it is really important and democracy is fundamental – but we are sitting, we are getting through our businesses, we are fortunate compared to many in the service sector who aren’t able to go into their place of work or find that their work is postponed in some way.
“And so I think to argue for special treatment for us is really quite difficult.”
The Cabinet minister also told the committee that he would not be advising MPs to immediately return to attending Parliament in person once they have been vaccinated.
Speaking on Monday, he said it was important MPs and peers “don’t go whoopie as soon as you’ve got a vaccination”.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “I think I need to be very careful because the Government advice is not to say to people, once you’ve been vaccinated you can mingle again – it is to say that you’ve got to go in line with the advice we’ve got for everybody else because there are still uncertainties to whether you can transmit the virus even if you’ve been vaccinated.
“And so no, I can’t encourage the Speaker to do that as a member of the Government.”