One-time Tory leadership contender joins group opposed to vacating Palace of Westminster for repair work

Michael Gove has joined a group of MPs who have spoken out against plans to shut down the Palace of Westminster to carry out vital repairs.

Gove and a group of seven other MPs are arguing against the offical proposal - drawn up by Aecom, HOK and Deloitte - of a full move out of MPs and Lords for six years to carry out £3.5bn of repair works.

Gove - a one-time Tory leadership contender, who is making headlines this week after securing the first UK interview with Donald Trump for the Times - and the other MPs argue the high cost of a full move-out is not justified “at a time of austerity”.

They further argue in a letter to colleagues that the “fabric of the Palace of Westminster is acknowledged to be solid” and it would be reckless to move out of the iconic building at a time when Britain is aiming “to make new friends abroad and negotiate favourable trade deals” following the vote for Brexit.

Last September a joint committee of MPs and Lords recommended a full decant of Parliament to allow vital restoration work to take place, with peers to move temporarily to the nearby headquarters of the Department of Health, Richmond House, while MPs move to the QE2 conference centre.

But the plans have to be signed off with a full vote in both houses of Parliament.

Gove is joined in his opposition by Conservatives Edward Leigh and Shailesh Vara, as well as Labour’s Alan Meale, Stephen Pound and George Howard.

They propose that the Lords chamber and the Royal Gallery be kept open as debating chambers while the rest of the Palace be sectioned off for renovation.

The group have recruited the help of chartered architect Anthony Delarue, working pro bono, to investigate alternatives to the official proposals.

In the letter the MPs state: “The fabric of the Palace of Westminster is acknowledged to be solid, and the one million people who visit every year – including many schoolchildren – should not be denied access.

“At a time of austerity it is not acceptable to spend £3.5bn on ourselves. Moreover, as we prepare to leave the EU and seek to make new friends abroad and negotiate favourable trade deals, we should be making the most of our iconic Parliament building rather than operating from somewhere else.

“There is an alternative to full decant which has been investigated and proposed by an independent architect. The Commons would sit in the Lords chamber, with the peers meeting in the Royal Gallery.”

In November the joint committee warned the scheme is at risk of grinding to a halt because the government is holding up a crucial debate on the move.

Nine firms and joint ventures were shortlisted last December – Allies & Morrison, BDP, Foster & Partners and HOK have been shortlisted for the architectural lot, while Aecom and Mace, Capita and Gleeds, CH2M, Arcadis and Turner & Townsend have been shortlisted for programme, project and cost management services.