Public ‘excluded’ from UK parliament amid pandemic — but banquets allowed

MPs hit out as award ceremonies and other events allowed to go ahead while public limited to pre-booked tours.

Public ‘excluded’ from UK parliament amid pandemic — but banquets allowed

LONDON — MPs and transparency campaigners fear citizens are being “excluded” from the U.K. parliament more than six weeks after most coronavirus restrictions at Westminster were dropped — even though banqueting events have been allowed to resume.

Members of the public are currently not allowed to enter parliament unless they are accompanied by an MP or have arranged a pre-booked tour, most of which come with a fee. Non-passholders cannot observe the Commons from the public gallery or attend select committee hearings.

Yet a parliamentary official pointed out that the ban on open public access remains despite the fact that banqueting receptions held by lobbyists and charities can carry on in the Palace of Westminster. 

“I am seeing awards ceremonies with 80 people taking place, unmasked, with random people in, but non-passholding journalists can’t come in,” they said. “Parliament shouldn’t be about parties — it’s about transparency and democracy.”

Labour MP and chairman of the Commons standards committee Chris Bryant told POLITICO the system was “crazy,” and suggested parliamentary authorities could make double vaccination or proof of a negative test a condition of entry.

One senior Conservative said: “We can have up to six guests for meetings but if people are paying for banqueting, there’s no — or a very high — limit.”

At the start of the pandemic physical attendance of parliament was limited and MPs were allowed to participate virtually, but these measures were lifted in the summer.

There is now no limit on the number of MPs who can sit in the chamber nor any requirement to wear masks, a situation which has attracted criticism as the U.K. battles rising case numbers.

Ruth Smeeth, a former Labour MP who now heads up the Index on Censorship campaign group, said she feared an “inadvertent drift toward a two-track system, which excludes the public from parliamentary proceedings that they have previously had access to.”

While she acknowledged the challenges of meeting public health guidelines, Smeeth warned that “a democratic deficit” could develop allowing “those able to secure access through formal channels enjoying access denied to the public at large.”

A parliament spokesperson said: “Options are currently being developed to allow limited public access to the gallery and for constituent meetings, where it is safe to facilitate these.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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Donald Tusk elected leader of Poland’s Civic Platform

Former European Council head aims to defeat ruling PiS.

Donald Tusk elected leader of Poland’s Civic Platform

Former Prime Minister Donald Tusk was elected leader of Poland’s main opposition force, Civic Platform, in party-wide elections this weekend, the party announced Sunday.

Tusk, who ran unopposed, captured over 97 percent of votes on a turnout of 73.3 percent of party members, local media reported.

A former European Council president and current chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political force in the EU, Tusk announced this summer that he would return to domestic politics to defeat the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Tusk has been serving as Civic Platform’s acting leader since July, but his election on Sunday is likely to bring renewed hope to critics of the nationalist PiS at a time of high tensions between the Polish government and the European Union.

At a summit in Brussels last week, EU leaders debated the Polish government’s controversial judiciary reforms and a Polish Constitutional Court ruling declaring primacy of the national constitution over EU treaties.

The ruling “calls into question the foundations of the European Union,” according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Amid the rule-of-law tensions, Brussels has been holding off on granting Poland its slice of EU post-COVID recovery money.

On Saturday, Tusk told reporters that after chairing last Thursday’s pre-summit meeting of EPP leaders, which included German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he had guarantees Poland would receive the recovery funding.

“No one was planning to punish Poles for the stubbornness of the PiS,” Tusk said.

Tusk served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014 and was president of the European Council from 2014 to 2019.


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

Source : Politico EU More   

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