MPs forced to shield at home to be given proxy vote, Boris Johnson announces

Harry Yorke
Boris Johnson

MPs forced to shield at home will be able to vote by proxy, Boris Johnson has announced as the Government performed a U-turn in the wake of a Tory backbench rebellion. 

Just 24 hours after Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed calls for MPs to be able to continue voting remotely, the Prime Minister said that those affected would now be able to ask a colleague to vote on their behalf. 

It came after Sir Keir Starmer confronted Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions over the decision to scrap the virtual Parliament on Tuesday, in a move which means MPs are now required to queue for up to half a mile across Parliament in order to vote.

The refusal to continue electronic voting has also meant that elderly and vulnerable MPs asked to self-isolate for medical reasons are currently unable to participate. 

Dozens of Conservative MP, including former Cabinet ministers, have expressed anger at the move, with more than 30 defying the whip on Tuesday to vote to keep hybrid proceedings.

Urging Mr Johnson to change course, Sir Keir on Wednesday said that the sight of MPs being forced to wait up to 40 minutes to vote - or excluded altogether - had been shameful. 

MPs were forced to queue for more than a half a mile as the first votes got underway on Tuesday

“If any other employer acted like this it would be a clear and obvious case of indirect discrimination under the Equalities Act,” he added. 

Responding, Mr Johnson told MPs:‘I do not think it’s unreasonable that we should ask parliamentarians to come back to this place and do their job for the people of this country.

“I know it is difficult and I apologise to all of those who are shielding or they are elderly. They should be able to vote by proxy.”

At present, pregnant MPs and those who are on maternity or paternity leave are allowed to use colleagues as proxy votes under reforms introduced in 2019.

Mr Rees-Mogg will now bring forward a motion on Thursday, with Downing Street stating that proxy votes will cover MPs who are shielding or who are aged 70 or over. 

Welcoming the decision, Tory MP Robert Halfon, who is among those forced to self-isolate, said: “Very happy, if correct, that Boris Johnson has just announced in the House of Commons that there will now be proxy voting for MPs affected by Covid-19 and not able to attend the chamber.”