Today, the House of Commons finally reopened for business, after it closed its doors early in March due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
Those who tuned in to the first debate since the break found a rather unusual spectacle awaiting them. Only a handful of MPs and officials turned up to the sparsely filled Chamber, which was filled with tape markings and warnings to ensure that all members remained socially distanced. But arguably the stranger sight, was to see the Commons’ arch-traditionalist Jacob Rees-Mogg leading the debate on behalf of the government for future Commons proceedings to take place via video link.
It would be easy to imagine the famously old-fashioned Commons Leader rallying against this encroachment of technology – which will see MPs use the video-conferencing software Zoom to debate key issues – but instead the Moggster launched into an impassioned defence of the role of parliament in this crisis, before comparing the current disease to the spread of the plague, saying:
“‘What we do in this House is not something that it is nice to do – a frippery, a bauble on the British constitution. It is the British constitution. It is at the essence of how our governmental and constitutional system works…In 1349, when the Black Death affected this country, Parliament couldn’t sit, and didn’t: the session was cancelled. Thanks to modern technology even I have moved on from 1349 and am glad to say that we can sit to carry out these fundamental constitutional functions.’