Jacob Rees-Mogg responds to claims parliament ‘could shut down for five months’ in effort to combat coronavirus

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg denied that the House of Commons will need to be shut down due to coronavirus (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

The government has said there are no plans to close the Houses of Parliament in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs there is currently no medical reason to think shutting the Palace of Westminster would be necessary or helpful.

He was responding to reports that MPs could be locked out of the House of Commons for five months in efforts to curb the spread of the illness.

Sources told The Times that talks are being held on whether to shut down Parliament as Wednesday saw the biggest daily jump in Covid-19 cases in the UK from 51 to 87, while three more patients in Scotland tested positive on Thursday morning.

The government is considering cancelling large gatherings in a worst-case scenario if the virus continues to spread.

Parliament could shut down for five months to tackle coronavirus. (Getty)

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A source told The Times that the 650 MPs are spread across the country for half the week before gathering at Westminster, adding: “It’s 650 superspreaders.”

Boris Johnson, centre, Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty, left, and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance speak about the Government's coronavirus action plan. (AP)

The paper reports that the shutdown would begin after the Easter holidays in April, before reopening in September - making it the longest suspension since 1914.

Labour MP Chris Bryant dismissed the plans, describing them as “nonsense”.

Read more: UK will see deaths from coronavirus, chief medical officer warns

He tweeted: “This idea of a six month parliamentary recess is nonsense. The government would not be able to spend money or levy income tax.

“It can only use emergency powers for 28 days without getting them renewed by Parliament. The law requires the monarch and speaker to summon Parliament.”

The final decision on whether to close parliament would be taken by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the Lord Speaker, following advice from Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

Health Minister Edward Argar said this morning that it would be for the parliamentary authorities to decide whether Parliament should be shut down to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

He said that a "whole range of options" were being considered to ensure MPs, staff and visitors to Parliament remained safe.

The final decision on whether to close Parliament would rest with Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle. (AP)

"This is a matter for House authorities. It will be a matter for the Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle) and the deputy speakers and the authorities to take advice from the Chief Medical Officer," he told Good Morning Britain.

"The parliamentary authorities are taking advice on a whole range of options.”

Pushed further on the issue, Argar played down the reports.

He added to Radio 4’s Today programme: “What I understand is that the advice at the moment is not that that is necessary.”

Boris Johnson said at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday plans would soon be revealed on how the Government intends to delay the advance of coronavirus in Parliament and other large gatherings.

A man wearing a face mask walks past an entrance sign for Bank underground train station. (AP)

Electronic voting and conference calls were suggested by the SNP's Carol Monaghan as ways of allowing Parliament to continue to operate while reducing the risk of infection.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Monaghan said: "We are all becoming increasingly concerned about Covid-19, the coronarvirus.

"But, every week, 650 of us come here from every part of the UK, spend several days operating in close proximity and meeting people from all over the world.

Rangers issues a warning to fans regarding the Coronavirus during the Ladbrokes Premiership match between Rangers and Hamilton at Ibrox. (Getty)

"We then return to our constituencies, potentially becoming the very vectors that we're trying to shut down.

"Parliament must stay open. But what plans does the Prime Minister have to utilise systems such as conference calls and electronic voting to ensure we do not become part of the problem?”

Read more: Plan for suspected coronavirus patients to see their GP by video link

Johnson replied: "She's raising a very important point and the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser, together with the Health Secretary, will say a little bit more in the next couple of days about what we're going to do to delay the advance of coronavirus in Parliament and at other large gatherings.

"We're still at the containment stage ... when we come to the delay phase, she'll be hearing a lot more detail about what we propose to do with large gatherings in places such as Parliament.”

A sign directing patients towards a Coronavirus pod at University College Hospital in London. (Getty)

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Discussions are already taking place with the parliamentary authorities and the scientific and medical advisers.

"It's not for me to speak for Parliament, but I'm sure Parliament will itself be led by the experts in terms of taking the steps it needs in order to protect the people who work there.”

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A UK Parliament spokesman said: "We are monitoring the situation closely and continue to work with the Department for Health and Public Health England.

"We have taken a range of precautionary measures including placing information posters across the parliamentary estate encouraging thorough handwashing.

"We have been reassured by Public Health England that the steps we are taking to reduce the risk of transmission are proportionate and reasonable."

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