How did British MPs vote? In very long queues

Social distancing leads to bizarrely British spectacle at Houses of Parliament

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Hundreds of British MPs spent more than an hour in queues stretching a kilometre through the corridors and halls of the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, casting their first votes in person since the country went into coronavirus lockdown.

The government has ditched the measures brought in because of the pandemic in April and May, which tore up centuries of tradition by allowing remote voting and debates by video conference.

MPs were required to attend Westminster for the first-ever socially distanced parliamentary vote.

They joined a queue, each spaced two metres apart, that wound out of the wood-panelled debating chamber, zigzagged through an ornate 11th century hall where monarchs and prime ministers lie in state, and outside into a courtyard.

They voted 261-163 in favour of the government's plan to end the so-called hybrid Parliament and restore a system that requires all those who wish to vote to attend in person.

"Voting while enjoying a sunny walk or whilst watching television does democracy an injustice," House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

"We ask members to vote in person for a reason: because it is the heart of what Parliament is about."

Unless a better method can be found, every vote will now involve the long queues that critics dismissed as a farce, and some on Twitter called the #ReesMoggConga.

The first vote that rejected keeping the hybrid arrangements took 46 minutes, slowed down because many MPs were uncertain of what to do when they reached the front of the queue.

A second vote to approve the government plan took 36 minutes.

"A total farce," opposition Labour MP Afzal Khan said on Twitter.

"This is supposed to be a functioning parliamentary democracy, not a theme park."

Parliamentary Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle directed proceedings with growing frustration, instructing each member to state their name and their vote as they passed his chair.

Normally, MPs vote by walking through crowded lobbies and having their names ticked off a list in a process that takes about 15 minutes.

That has been ruled unsafe because of the risk of coronavirus contagion.

Many, including a group of rebels in the governing Conservative Party, objected to the decision to end flexible working arrangements. They said it disenfranchised those who were unable to attend Parliament.

Mr Rees-Mogg said the hybrid system was too slow at processing legislation and nullified the cut and thrust of the adversarial debating chamber.