Cross-party demands gained momentum on Saturday for an urgent “virtual” recall of the UK parliament amid the escalating situation with the coronavirus pandemic, reports The Guardian.
As the COVID-19 death toll in the country neared 10,000 and questions continued to mount over the government’s handling of the pandemic, a right to hold ministers to account was demanded by senior Tories and the leaders of all main opposition parties.
Parliament was shut down on 25 March to combat the spread of coronavirus, with MPs voting to plan for a managed return to work on Tuesday 21 April.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson recovering from COVID-19 in a hospital ward after several days in intensive care, Labour leader Keir Starmer has been underscoring the need for parliament to be recalled as soon as possible.
Highlighting the need for “parliamentary scrutiny” in the volatile situation, Starmer penned a letter to the Leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, requesting talks with the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle.
“The best decisions are those that are challenged and subject to scrutiny. And by that process issues can be resolved, mistakes quickly rectified and individual concerns addressed. That will help save lives and protect our country. But if parliament is not sitting or functioning effectively, that cannot happen.”
As the unfolding situation in the country has many doubting MPs will return to Westminster on the date stipulated on the Parliament website, there have been no alternative arrangements made known for virtual sessions.
“I don’t think this government wants parliament to return, as it will allow MPs to focus on ways they are messing things up. That’s why they like daily press conferences. They give them a chance to control everything,” a senior Labour source was cited as saying.
Ian Blackford, SNP leader at Westminster, insisted the time was ripe for parliament to resume work in virtual form to summon anyone deputising for Boris Johnson to a “question time”, similar to video sessions with Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish parliament.
Blackford lambasted the fact that Downing Street had not yet requested him to attend a confidential briefing on privy council terms, says the outlet, adding that the SNP leader had revealed, having written to the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, over two weeks ago, that he'd questioned if financial aid would reach the most needy but received no reply.
“This is simply not acceptable,” said Blackford.
A former cabinet minister, Tory MP David Davis, also urged for MPs to be recalled and subject themselves to daily tests for the virus, adding:
”The House of Commons met when air raids were going on in the war. I think it needs to be reconstituted even if it means MPs being tested every day.”
Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, deplored the “intolerable” lack of “parliamentary scrutiny” during the crisis.
As she chaired her debut daily COVID-19 briefing, Home Secretary Priti Patel voiced concern over the “devastating impact of this virus”, saying discussions were underway regarding how to resume the work of parliament.
Patel insisted, however, that the focus needed to be on handling the pandemic, saying:
“I think at this particular time, we have to focus the resources of government, all our energies, every single sinew of government, focusing on saving lives and dealing with this awful disease.”
Regarding cited shortages of personal protective equipment, Patel acknowledged “distribution issues”, but attempted to assuage concerns by vowing there was a “clear plan” for delivering adequate supplies of it.
“I’m sorry if people feel there have been failings,” said the Home Secretary.
Despite a slight decrease between 10-11 April, the death toll escalated by 917 on Saturday compared to the day before, reaching a total of 9,875, with experts warning the coming week could see a significant swelling of numbers.
Asked if the situation with the virus had reached its peak in the country, David Spielgelhalter, a Cambridge University statistician, was quoted by the outlet as saying:
“This is Easter weekend, and that will have affected numbers of reports of deaths. I would expect there will be a catch-up this week and a massive spike in numbers of daily deaths being reported on Wednesday or Thursday. Only in the following days will we see if we are reaching a plateau in deaths.”