Business Secretary Alok Sharma tests negative for coronavirus

3 June 2020, 20:36

Mr Sharma appeared unwell while speaking at the Commons despatch box yesterday
Mr Sharma appeared unwell while speaking at the Commons despatch box yesterday. Picture: UK Parliament
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has tested negatively for coronavirus after appearing unwell in the House of Commons yesterday.

The minister appeared to struggle while delivering his speech in Westminster and was seen wiping his face several times with a handkerchief.

His opposite number, the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, passed him a glass of water at one point to help him through.

The development came one day after MPs approved the government's plan to end virtual voting in the Commons.

Mr Sharma was self-isolating after returning home and was tested for Covid-19, his spokeswoman said.

"Business Secretary Alok Sharma has received a negative result after being tested for coronavirus yesterday," she added on Thursday.

"Mr Sharma would like to thank the parliamentary authorities and Speaker and also for the kind words from parliamentary colleagues and others who have expressed their well-wishes over the last 24 hours."

Mr Sharma thanked people for their support.

He tweeted: "Huge thanks to everyone for their really kind messages over the last 24 hours and my grateful thanks also to the parliamentary authorities and Speaker for their support yesterday. Just had results in and my test for #Covid19 was negative."

Speaking yesterday, his spokeswoman said: "Secretary of State Alok Sharma began feeling unwell when in the chamber delivering the second reading of the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Bill.

"In line with guidance he has been tested for coronavirus and is returning home to self-isolate."

The chamber was suspended while a deep clean took place around the despatch box.

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Labour shadow minister Toby Perkins had raised concerns over the business secretary's appearance in the Commons earlier in the day.

"This is not ok. If he has symptoms that could be Covid-19, it's not up to him to soldier on, he is jeopardising the health of everyone who he comes across and everyone else who touches that despatch box and every door handle he touches etc," Mr Perkins tweeted.

"Maybe he's had a test and knows it's not that, but if so he should confirm that to people watching, otherwise the message again goes out that what the government says and means about what to do if you have symptoms are two different things."

After hearing that Mr Sharma would be self-isolating following a Covid-19 test, Mr Perkins said: "This is ridiculous. It was clear that Alok Sharma looked unwell.

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"If there are now fears that he may have COVID19 and he hadn't already tested negative, it was the height of irresponsibility for him to be in parliament sniffling, sweating and snorting from the despatch box."

Digital voting in the Commons was ended on Tuesday when MPs approved a government motion introduced by Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, despite widespread objections.

Senior Conservatives, opposition groups and the equalities watchdog raised concerns that the move would prevent many MPs, particularly the elderly and vulnerable ones who are shielding, from being able to vote.

Chaotic scenes unfolded in the Commons when MPs formed a long queue snaking through Parliament so they could maintain social distancing while voting on the motion.

Boris Johnson on Wednesday dismissed complaints over the system, saying: "I do not think it's unreasonable that we should ask parliamentarians to come back to this place and do their job for the people of this country."

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the scenes were "shameful" and pushed the Prime Minister to end the "completely unnecessary and unacceptable" process.