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SDLP's Hanna won't risk trip as MPs called back to Commons

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SDLP MP Claire Hanna

SDLP MP Claire Hanna

Alliance MP Stephen Farry

Alliance MP Stephen Farry

PRU/AFP via Getty Images

SDLP MP Claire Hanna

A Northern Ireland MP has said she will not risk travelling to London after MPs were summoned back to Westminster.

The government has dropped virtual proceedings, despite concerns that shielding politicians will be unable to attend.

Claire Hanna, the SDLP MP for South Belfast, has no plans to return in the near future.

She said: "You're disenfranchising whole constituencies if there's not a way to facilitate participation of their MP."

A series of innovations introduced in April had allowed MPs to work remotely during lockdown and appear virtually via Zoom and to vote online.

The government's main justification for abolishing the "hybrid" sittings was that MPs could not do their job from their constituencies because they were not able to spontaneously intervene in their colleagues' speeches.

House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg argued this meant the quality of debate was reduced and ordered a return to socially distant business as usual.

Around a third of MPs have said they can't, or won't, be there, citing health or age reasons or to shield sick relatives while others are choosing not to make the journey to London.

Ms Hanna has said she does not intend to go back to Westminster this side of the summer.

"On balance, it's too much of a risk at this point. The Northern Irish public health advice is still 'stay home' and to work from home where possible," she told the New Statesman.

"Clearly that is possible, as the virtual arrangements for the last month demonstrated. I genuinely don't think Jacob Rees-Mogg has presented a decent argument for not continuing it.

"I wouldn't want my constituents to feel pushed back to work when it doesn't seem safe and when they are able to work from home, so it wouldn't be a great example if I did.

"The risk of air travel during the pandemic is an additional complication, particularly when it takes me to a virus hotspot while Belfast Health Trust area has a relatively tiny number of new cases (and there were no deaths on the island of Ireland on several days in the last week)."

North Down Alliance MP Stephen Farry said the measures were "farcical and not sensitive to those who need to shield or with travel logistical difficulties".

He added: "I am not able to travel at short notice for Thursday's business but anticipate travelling to London over the coming weeks subject to sufficient notice of relevant business."

However several DUP MPs, including Ian Paisley and Jim Shannon, took part in Commons debates yesterday.

The party's Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said removing the current 'hybrid' system raises problems for many MPs in constituencies geographically distant from London.

The Lagan Valley MP said: "For Northern Ireland MPs transport remains an issue, with flights not fully operational.

"Similarly for MPs unable to travel home each day, the availability of accommodation in London does not appear to have been fully considered given that hotels are not yet open.

"Beyond this there are concerns that a 'two-tier' system of MPs could end up being created.

"Those MPs who have underlying health conditions would find themselves excluded from proceedings. The abiding principle that all MPs are equal must remain and must be facilitated as we move forward."

Belfast Telegraph