OPPOSITION leaders are co-operating behind the scenes to block any attempt by the UK Government to scrap Westminster’s hybrid Parliament and see MPs returning en masse to the House of Commons next month.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons Leader, who has insisted MPs should lead by example to return to their workplace in London, has been likened to “some sort of Victorian mill-owner” by Alistair Carmichael, the Orkney and Shetland MP, who made clear that he and all his fellow Liberal Democrat MPs would not be returning to the Commons until it was completely safe to do so.

And last night, Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, said it was “nonsense” for Mr Rees-Mogg to suggest the digital Parliament, that had enabled MPs to safely work from home while holding the UK Government to account during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, should be scrapped.

On Wednesday, Mr Rees-Mogg raised hackles when he argued that the hybrid Parliament, where MPs participate in the Commons chamber while others do so digitally, was providing “ineffective scrutiny” compared to the normal sitting.

He decried how opposition politicians wanted to “hide behind a veneer of virtual Parliament, so that legislation is not progressed with”.

The Commons Leader went on: “We have heard it from the Scottish shadow spokesman, when he says that a virtual Parliament is a second-rate Parliament. He wants us all to be second rate, whereas I want us all to be first rate; to get back to being a proper Parliament because democracy is essential.”

Mr Rees-Mogg added: “How can we hide away while schoolchildren are going back? Is that the right message to give to our constituents? Are we a people set apart, a special class who are exempt from what the rest of the country is doing? No, we are not. We are the leaders of our nation and we have a responsibility.”

But Mr Carmichael, arguably the farthest flung parliamentarian based in the Northern Isles, declared: “I’m not going to put my family and my community at risk just because Jacob Rees-Mogg has an aversion to modernity. His behaviour yesterday was quite outrageous.

“He looks ever more like some sort of Victorian mill-owner, having a bit of a spat just because his gentleman’s club is not providing him with his favourite claret; that’s no way to run a modern Parliament.”

The former Scottish Secretary said it would be an “outrage” to switch off Westminster’s “virtual-feed” before it was safe to do so.

He went on: “The Conservatives, in particular, seem to be driving this, not because they are that bothered about the accountability of the Government; we saw how much they cared about that on Sunday night when they went out with a broadcast to the nation before the Prime Minister had said a single word to Parliament.”

Decrying the Tories’ “resistance to change in the House of Commons,” Mr Carmichael warned: “The message you start sending to people about bringing Parliament back before it is safe to do so would be just about as dangerous and self-defeating as it is possible to imagine.

“What you are seeing is internal party management from the Conservatives rather than pursuing the national interest and following the best scientific advice.”

The Lib Dem Chief Whip last trip home from Westminster took him 26 hours rather than the usual five, using the sleeper to Edinburgh, a hire car to Aberdeen and a ferry and another car home to Orkney.

He added: “The Commons is a forum for the whole of the United Kingdom and, accordingly, we can’t leave it simply to people within driving distance of London to govern our nation’s affairs.

“So, unless and until it is safe to do so, Liberal Democrats will not be attending the House of Commons but we are determined we will continue to represent our constituents in the meantime and we do that through the virtual Parliament.”

Mr Blackford was equally adamant that he and his fellow MPs would not put their staff and constituents safety at risk by continually travelling back and forth to London while the risks of catching and spreading the virus remained high.

“The last three weeks have demonstrated that parliamentarians can make a contribution, can question ministers, hold the Government to account, debate and even vote digitally. Why would you put your staff and constituents at risk by going to London and then return to your constituency?”

Asked about Mr Rees-Mogg’s desire to return to a so-called “physical Parliament” by the beginning of June after the Whitsun recess, the Highland told The Herald: “It’s a nonsense.”