Boris Johnson has been accused of u-turning over plans for parliamentary votes after they were branded an “absolute farce”.
The government ended the remote voting instead forcing parliamentarians to queue for around a 1km snaking around the estate and taking more than an hour in order to keep social distancing.
MPs were angered by what they saw as a waste of time but there were also more serious concerns that those who need to shield because of health conditions, or because they are over a certain age, would be disenfranchised.
On Tuesday the leader of the house, Jacob Rees-Mog declined to endorse a proxy vote system, instead saying that vulnerable MPs could be paired.
But today the Prime Minister said the Government wants proxy voting to be in place for those who cannot attend Parliament as they are shielding or elderly.
Labour has branded it a U-turn after Boris Johnson confirmed during Prime Minister’s Questions that MPs shielding from coronavirus will be allowed to vote by proxy now that the House of Commons has ended remote sittings.
On Monday, MPs had to join a queue that stretched for several hundred metres, snaking through Westminster Hall and running to Portcullis House, the newer part of the parliamentary estate, to be able to vote.
Many opposition MPs – and a number of Tories – have called for the existing remote voting process to be kept in place during the pandemic.
Yesterday former Tory cabinet minister Karen Bradley, who chairs the Procedure Committee, moved an amendment to keep remote voting in place in the coming weeks, with the division list showing 31 Conservative MPs rebelled to support the proposal.
Chaotic scenes emerged in the House of Commons on Tuesday as MPs joined an Alton Towers-style queue to decide to end online voting during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Social distancing measures required them to join a queue, keep two metres apart, walk through the Commons chamber and announce their vote.
The queue stretched for several hundred metres, snaking throughout the parliamentary estate, with the first vote running for 46 minutes.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the scenes as “shameful” and pushed the PM to end the “completely unnecessary and unacceptable” process, and instead allow remote voting to resume.
He told Prime Minister’s Questions: “If any other employer behaved like this, it’d be a clear and obvious case of indirect discrimination under the Equalities Act.”
But today Mr Johnson dismissed complaints over MPs queuing to vote by comparing the lengthy wait to those experienced by people at supermarkets.
“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’s difficult and I apologise to colleagues for the inconvenience and I apologise to all those who have particular difficulties because they’re shielded or elderly, the change we’re making today will mean they should be able to vote by proxy.”
Mr Johnson also said of Sir Keir: “Our policy is test, trace and isolate, his policy is agree, U-turn and then criticise.
“What I can tell him is that I do think the people of this country on the whole will want their parliamentarians to be back at work, doing their job, passing legislation on behalf of the people of this country and that is what this Government intends to do.”
Mr Johnson was heckled by some, who objected to his suggestion that MPs are only working when in Parliament.
Mr Johnson ended PMQs by heading towards the chamber exit but stopping for a chat with a Conservative colleague, thereby walking over hazard tape on the floor designed to encourage MPs to keep two metres apart.
The size of the chamber has made it difficult for some MPs to keep their distance as they try to swap seats or move around.
A spokesman for party leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “We still believe that the Government shouldn’t have dropped the virtual sittings and we still think there are concerns for how the Government has gone about this.
“The fact the Government has U-turned in the middle of the PMQs shows how chaotic this entire situation has been.
“Parliament should be setting the example to the rest of the country for how we should be acting during the pandemic and I don’t think anyone can look at what happened yesterday and say the Government is setting a good example.”
The spokesman said the party leadership would look in more detail at the motion put forward by the Government on proxy voting before choosing how to whip on the vote.
Conservative MP George Freeman welcomed the PM’s change saying: “Delighted to hear that the PM has announced that those of us MPs shielding will now be allowed to continue to vote by proxy.”