UK reeling from coronavirus could be floored by double punch of Brexit

At the end of its second week back from recess, when Jacob Rees-Mogg put a stop to remote voting and promised a return to business as usual, the Palace of Westminster is still mostly deserted. If anything, there were fewer MPs around the atrium at Portcullis House, which is acting as the parliamentary estate’s village square, this week than last week.

Rees-Mogg’s attempt to bring everyone back to Westminster has been a fiasco and the kilometre-long conga lines of MPs waiting to vote have made him a greater laughing stock than ever. Many MPs continue to take part in debates by video, and speaker Lindsay Hoyle appears to enjoy introducing these contributions like an announcer in the early days of broadcasting.

“We now go to the shadows of Lichfield Cathedral to Michael Fabricant, ” he boomed on Thursday morning, nonplussing for once the veteran Conservative MP.

Hoyle is not an attention-seeking speaker like his predecessor John Bercow but is showing early signs of enjoying the limelight and did nothing to discourage the dozens of MPs who started their contributions on Wednesday by wishing him a happy birthday. Boris Johnson offered his best wishes too but ministers privately blame Hoyle for making the return to in-person voting at Westminster more unwieldy than necessary.

Hoyle has alienated some MPs by banning the sale of alcohol on the estate and the cafes and restaurants are a grim sight, with tables for one scattered far apart. And the two-metre social distancing rule is making life difficult for everyone, whips and plotters alike.

Johnson is under pressure from within his party to reduce the two-metre limit to one metre. But the public are wary and a YouGov poll on Thursday found that 58 per cent of Britain’s want to retain the two-metre rule, compared with 24 per cent who want to reduce it and 8 per cent who want to scrap it altogether.