Minister says colleague may have just had ‘severe hayfever’ as he defends Commons arrangements

Business secretary Alok Sharma wipes his face during a speech in the House of Commons. Photograph: P

Business secretary Alok Sharma wipes his face during a speech in the House of Commons. Photograph: PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Business secretary Alok Sharma might have had a bout of 'severe hayfever' when he appeared visibly ill in the House of Commons, according to a cabinet colleague, who defended the government over its new arrangements for the Commons.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said: 'I don't want to be premature because Alok, who I wish well and hope he recovers quickly, may well have had severe hayfever, we're not sure yet.

'He has had a test, he is self-isolating as you say, to take the correct precaution.'

The business secretary appeared unwell during the second reading of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill on Wednesday and travelled home to self-isolate after taking a coronavirus test.

During the debate, he was seen wiping his face with a handkerchief several times and his opposite number in Labour's shadow cabinet, Ed Miliband, passed him a glass of water at one point.

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The SNP's deputy leader in Westminster Kirsty Blackman said the suspected case demonstrates 'just how ridiculous and irresponsible the Tory Government's decision to end virtual participation in Parliament was'.

'They must now rectify this serious mistake and reintroduce hybrid proceedings without delay,' the MP added.

Other politicians called on Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to apologise, and even resign, over the matter.

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But Lewis denied that Sharma's case supported the argument for virtual voting in the Commons to be resumed.

He said: 'It is important for parliamentarians to be able to properly scrutinise legislation, not just for Covid but for the wider legislative agenda we have to continue with for people across the country, but to do so within proper guidelines.

'That's what the House authorities have set up, that's what's been working over the last few days and that's a very good thing.

'It highlights Alok's situation, if he has got coronavirus, why it is so important that if you are in a work environment, you have got to follow the guidelines.'

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