Business Secretary Alok Sharma repeatedly wiped his head and nose with a handkerchief and held his forehead as he delivered a speech on Wednesday, raising questions about whether the UK government was right to demand that its lawmakers return to Parliament while the number of new coronavirus infections remains high.
The House of Commons had been operating hybridly in recent weeks, with a restricted number of parliamentarians allowed in the house and others authorized to participate and vote from home.
But in a movement led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons and conservative traditionalist deputy, the government used its parliamentary majority to end that deal earlier this week.
Parliamentarians were forced to return to Westminster if they wanted to debate and vote on the legislation. But House of Commons authorities insisted that social distancing rules be upheld, meaning that lawmakers had to join a long line to vote the traditional way of passing booths while tellers say their names .
A report by the House of Commons Procedural Committee released on May 30 warned that the government’s decision to withdraw the House of Commons to Westminster with a socially distanced system had “significant deficiencies.” The committee’s report said it has “serious concerns about how it would work in practice” and proposed that “remote voting should continue for a limited period of time, with members wishing to be able to vote in person so that their votes are recorded in the camera “.
On Tuesday, after the first session after virtual arrangements were abandoned, he tweeted: “Today it has shown how much more effective a proper Parliament is than an imitation of holding the government to account.” But Sharma’s haunting appearance on Wednesday may cast doubt on the wisdom of forcing lawmakers into a confined space.
Downing Street said that if Sharma tests positive, Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be forced to isolate himself. The prime minister’s official spokesman said Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak held a 45-minute meeting on the economy with Sharma on Tuesday. The rules for social distancing were maintained, the spokesman said.
Other legislators with whom he had contact with the minister may also be forced to a two-week quarantine if the result is positive.
A spokesman for Sharma’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told CNN on Wednesday: “Secretary of State Alok Sharma began to feel bad when he was on camera delivering the second reading of the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Bill. On In line with the orientation, he has been evaluated for the coronavirus and has returned home to isolate himself. “
At the time of publication Thursday, Sharrma had not yet retrieved the results of his tests, according to the department.
Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper said on Twitter that Rees-Mogg should resign as House leader for “bringing [it] in disrepute, and unnecessarily putting lives at risk. “He urged President Lindsay Hoyle to return Parliament to virtual proceedings only with immediate effect.
Labor MP John McDonnell said on Twitter: “I wish Alok Sharma a speedy recovery, but this confirms that the lives of both staff and MPs are at risk in Parliament. It was an irresponsible decision by Rees Mogg and Johnson to force the opening of Parliament. Now you must go back to blocking and online operation. “
This story has been updated to correct the date the House of Commons Procedural Committee report was released.