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Thu, 9 July 2020

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Alok Sharma had 45-minute meeting with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak before self-isolating, Number 10 confirms

Alok Sharma had 45-minute meeting with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak before self-isolating, Number 10 confirms

The Business Secretary appeared visibly unwell in the Commons chamber. (Image: ParliamentLive)

4 min read

Business Secretary Alok Sharma held a 45-minute meeting with Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak before he went into self-isolation with Covid-19 symptoms, Downing Street has confirmed.

The senior minister - who was taken ill and has been tested for coronavirus after struggling through a Commons appearance on Wednesday - did not attend a meeting of Cabinet that morning.

But Downing Street confirmed he did attend economic talks in Number 10 beforehand.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “It was reported this morning that he attended Cabinet in person, that's not correct, I think I said to you all yesterday it was only the PM and the Chancellor who attended Cabinet in person. 

“He did attend a meeting in Number 10, which took place before Cabinet. That was a discussion on the economy, and in terms of who was present it was the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Business Secretary.”

Number 10 stressed that all meetings that take place in Downing Street are done so in line with strict social distancing guidance, adhering to the two-metre distancing rule imposed across the UK.

The spokesperson said Mr Sharma “does not yet have his test results”, but confirmed he would “work with the test and trace service to share information about his recent interactions” should he test positive.

That raises the prospect of Cabinet ministers and MPs who came into contact with Mr Sharma being approached by public health officials and asked to self-isolate.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “If the Secretary of State were to test positive for coronavirus then he will go through the test and trace process, and follow the advice which they give to him.

“That sets out in the test and trace guidance what close contact with someone means, but they they have expertise and guidance on this and that’s what they’ll follow.”

Pressed on whether Mr Johnson, who has already been hospitalised with Covid-19, would comply if asked to self-isolate, Number 10 said: “I would expect us to take medical advice and to follow it.”

The update on the Business Secretary comes amid growing anger from MPs at the decision to reopen Parliament this week and shelve parts of the virtual Parliament that had been set up in recent months.

'PUTTING PEOPLE AT RISK'

The Government will on Thursday bring forward a motion adding a number of exemptions to the rules requiring MPs to once again be physically present in the chamber.

Ministers will let those who are ill or shielding from Covid-19 ask another MP to vote on their behalf under the proxy system. But the same exemptions have not been applied to MPs with caring responsibilities.

Asked whether a rethink was now being considered on the decision to reopen the Commons, Number 10 said: “There isn't.”

The spokesperson added: “As we've set out previously, we want to see Parliament fulfil all its functions, provide proper scrutiny and pass legislation, including legislation to help tackle the effects of coronavirus.

“This week Parliament has agreed a way forward which will allow all people who are shielding or over 70 to take part in proxy voting, and also to ensure people who can’t attend Parliament in person are able to contribute to proceedings.”

Speaking in the chamber on Thursday, Shadow Commons Leader Valerie Vaz blasted the Governmment for pressing ahead with the reopening of the Commons, after MPs were forced to form a queue around the parliamentary estate to cast votes.

“I notice that the Prime Minister and minister for the Cabinet Office were not there voting with us all, but the Leader of the Opposition was there," she said.

And the Labour frontbencher added: “That image of our Parliament is going to live with this government forever: timewasting, shambolic, breaking the rules, putting people at risk.”

But Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg shot back: “We were queuing because we have our democratic duty to do.  

"We made commitments to the British people in December to get bills through parliament.”

“We should also lead by example; across country people are going back to work.

“How can we look teachers in our constituency in the eye when we are asking them to go back
to work, when we are saying we are not willing to?”

Read the most recent article written by Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Alain Tolhurst - Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of ‘shameful’ attempt to blame care homes over coronavirus response

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