Ripple

Ripple of rumour around the Commons as concern grows for the Queen | The Queen

The first public signs that something was gravely amiss came with a flicker of activity in the House of Commons chamber as Liz Truss announced her energy price freeze.

It was a sign that the situation could be more serious than the careful words from Buckingham Palace suggested. The Commons had never been interrupted to hear news of the Queen’s health in this manner before.

The prime minister had finished her opening remarks and was seated on the frontbench next to the chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, was in the middle of his response.

But MPs were distracted by the appearance of the new chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Nadhim Zahawi, who had not been in the chamber for Truss’s speech. He slipped into the chamber and inserted himself between Kwarteng and Truss to speak to the prime minister, handing her a note, and then slipped out again.

Eagle-eyed MPs began to whisper to each other, wondering what was going on. It is not uncommon for ministers and MPs to pass notes to each other in the chamber or to help out with figures or responses to questions. But Truss had finished speaking. Zahawi returned to her side after a couple of minutes.

The exchange may still have passed without causing much alarm, but there had been a state of heightened anxiety in Westminster over the Queen’s health since she cancelled a privy council meeting shortly after looking frail after meeting Truss at Balmoral.

Truss and her predecessor, Boris Johnson, had travelled to Scotland for the transfer of power because the Queen’s ill health meant she had been unable to return to Buckingham Palace.

Journalists watching from the Commons gallery began to file out to check what was happening. Then the ripple of rumour grew around the chamber as a note was passed to Angela Rayner on the Labour frontbench. Rayner ducked down behind Starmer and left the chamber with a look of concern.

She came back within a minute and looked as if she was deliberating, then asked a colleague for a pen and wrote a note, handing it to the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, who was at Starmer’s right-hand side. Reeves paused, then discreetly passed the note on to Starmer’s dispatch box, while he was still in full flow.

Starmer and Truss remained in their seats after the message was conveyed. Word was starting to spread around the chamber and several MPs started to make their way out as the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, began his response to Truss’s energy announcement.

Commons Speaker interrupts parliament with message for the Queen – video

The Commons Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, was waiting for word from the palace. After the announcement came in – “the Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health,” the palace said – Hoyle rose to interrupt Blackford. MPs who had gathered to speculate in the members’ lobby headed back into the chamber.

Hoyle told MPs the news from the palace, reading from a pre-prepared statement on a yellow sheet of A4. “I know I speak on behalf of the entire house when I say that we send our best wishes to Her Majesty the Queen and that she and the royal family are in our thoughts and prayers at this moment.”

By the time Blackford had finished speaking, the opposition frontbench had almost emptied and the government benches had thinned. MPs said Truss and Starmer left the chamber together.

For the rest of the debate, MPs repeatedly expressed concern for the monarch and sent good wishes. Along Whitehall, tentative preparations for the worst have begun to be made.

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