Jacob Rees-Mogg ‘like Victorian mill owner’ for demanding MPs return

The Liberal Democrats will not return to Westminster “unless and until” they believe it is safe for all their MPs to do so, the party’s chief whip has said, as he compared Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to a “Victorian mill owner”.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg pictured outside him London home
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg pictured outside him London home

Alistair Carmichael accused the Conservatives of putting party management ahead of public safety and scientific advice after Mr Rees-Mogg pushed for parliament to stop virtual sittings and return in person at the start of June.

The SNP has also said it is not yet safe to return to parliament, and Mr Carmichael - who represents Orkney and Shetland - said it was “not sustainable” for him to make a 26 hour journey each way to Westminster every week while social distancing and transport restrictions were in place.

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Mr Carmichael, a former Secretary of State for Scotland added that it was “not sensible” for Boris Johnson to use nationwide statements and press conferences from Downing Street standing in front of Union flags to public health announcements that largely apply to England.

The Lib Dem chief whip joined Lord Wallace of Tankerness, a former deputy First Minister of Scotland, to call for the Joint Ministerial Committee of devolved and UK ministers to become the forum for discussion about coronavirus policy, in order to preserve a four-nation approach to the crisis.

In the Commons yesterday, Mr Rees-Mogg claimed MPs were trying to “hide behind a veneer of virtual Parliament” and “hide away whilst schoolchildren are going back” to school - something that is currently only planned in England.

“It would be an outrage for the government to switch off the virtual feed before it is safe to do so,” Mr Carmichael said.

“The message that you start sending to people about bringing Parliament back before it is safe to do so I think would be just about as dangerous and as self defeating as it's possible to imagine.

“I think what you're seeing there is a little bit of internal party management from the Conservatives rather than pursuing the national interest and following the best scientific advice.”

He added: “I’m not going to put my family or my community at risk just because Jacob Rees-Mogg has an aversion to modernity.

“His behaviour yesterday I thought was quite outrageous. He looks over more like some sort of Victorian mill owner having a bit of a spat just because this gentleman's club has run out of his favourite claret. That is no way to run a modern parliament.”

Asked about concerns that the public were receiving mixed messages from Edinburgh and London, with Nicola Sturgeon sticking to the ‘Stay Home’ message while Mr Johnson presented a new approach in his capacity as Prime Minister, Mr Carmichael said: “I don't think it's sensible... not least because as we've already touched on I don't think that there is a single approach that's necessarily going to work across the whole of England.

“I think the needs of London will be different from the other metropolitan cities, which will be different from the rural areas. I think a centralised system of government from Westminster serves people in the different parts of England as badly as ever did Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Right at the moment, to embark upon a major programme of constitutional change might be seen as being a little bit self indulgent. It's one of the learning points I think that you should take from this at the end of the day, though.

“There is an obvious tension between the function of the UK Government as the UK Government and effectively as the English government as well.”

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