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MP’s fears for parliament votes if coronavirus spread forces shutdown

PUBLISHED: 17:04 05 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:10 05 March 2020

MP for Norwich (South) Clive Lewis. Picture: Neil Didsbury

MP for Norwich (South) Clive Lewis. Picture: Neil Didsbury

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A Norfolk MP has warned the shutting down of parliament could pose a risk to democracy if emergency powers to keep the UK safe from a coronavirus outbreak are brought in.

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South, said he was prepared to self-isolate if he presented with symptoms of the flu-like illness.

But after emergency talks about the prospect of shutting down parliament were held, Mr Lewis warned that the closing down of the House of Commons could frustrate the democratic process needed to keep emergency legislation in place, which he said might have to be renewed up to every 28 days - and would require MPs to be present in parliament for votes to be held.

He said: "What happens if MP numbers change? Can we pass legislation to change things?

"Many of the House of Lords are older - it's a concern. Because of the way votes happen we have to physically be there.

"If there are no travel restrictions you would want to spend time in Parliament."

But Mr Lewis, who was reelected in his Norwich seat in the December 2019 general election, added: "We do have to trust the executive.

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"If it was necessary and it was advised then clearly we should lead by example. Schools and businesses are going to close.

"The dilemma is there are 3,000 people and staff.

"Most places of work don't have hundreds of thousands of people coming through every day."

And he warned a national lockdown would have an impact on the "interconnected" society, and said: "What happens when people who maintain information networks - 3G, 4G, and 5G, self-isolate and things go wrong?

"The web of interconnected relationships could disintegrate very quickly. We're a very interconnected society.

"You can see why that's a concern when people have to self-isolate for two weeks to 24 days."

Mr Lewis warning comes as the speaker and the House of Commons chief medical officer met on Wednesday, March 4 to discuss the possibility of parliament closing during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Sir Lindsey Hoyle, the speaker, raised concerns about the spread of the virus among staff and parliamentarians and tourists.

The prime minister has said more information would be released in the coming days.

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