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HENRY DEEDES Watches the Commons as News of the Queen’s Deteriorating Health Spreads

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The House of Commons at its most vibrant is a relentless cockpit, pumped with passion and boisterous debate. But when it retreats into gloomy creepiness without warning, then you know something bad is going on.

It happened shortly after noon yesterday, not long after Nadhim Zahawi’s powerful figure entered the room, a scribbled note dangling from his fingers.

MPs debated the government’s plans to tackle rising energy bills. Emotions ran high.

But the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had no interest in the proceedings. He walked straight up to the Prime Minister in the front seat.

He leaned over to talk to her, and his first words made her stand up, as if shaken with a high-voltage prod.

Nadhim Zahawi and Liz Truss have a discussion in the House

Zahawi’s left hand pumped up and down, clearly speaking with her point by point. His pained expression suggested it was a matter of the highest urgency.

Indeed it was. There was news from the Queen from Balmoral. When PMs are informed in this way in the middle of a debate, they usually don’t pay attention. More often than not, they roll their eyes and wave their messengers away with a scornful wave of the hand.

Liz Truss, however, had turned deliberately toward Zahawi, clutching his eyes tightly, and giving him her undivided attention.

As Zahawi’s lips moved, the Prime Minister’s face was a mixture of emotions: part confusion and part concern, turning into shock.

Here is a shadow of George W. Bush’s reaction when he was informed by his chief of staff that a second plane had flown into the Twin Towers on that disgraceful day of 9/11.

A thousand different thoughts competing with a thousand different emotions. At that fateful moment, 21 years ago this weekend, the US president was sitting in a Florida classroom reading to students at The Pet Goat.

Nadhim Zahawi and Liz Truss were seen with a note on a sheet of paper

Nadhim Zahawi and Liz Truss were seen with a note on a sheet of paper

Truss had listened to Sir Keir Starmer’s reaction to her plans. A matter of crucial importance, admittedly, but which – for the time being, of course – must have suddenly felt trivial.

Along the opposition benches their necks stretched like frightened geese. Something serious had happened. How serious became apparent as Zahawi’s certified note made its way through a sea of ​​hands to the front seat of Labour.

With Sir Keir still on his feet, it was left to his deputy Angela Rayner to read it. She seemed dismissive at first. Maybe it was just a precaution, because the queen’s doctors were overly cautious. Finally, the seriousness of the situation began to sink in. Bad news spreads quickly here. Reports of the queen’s condition spread across the green banks faster than a prairie fire with a tailwind. All the fury of what had hitherto been a lively debate quickly evaporated.

At the Speaker’s chair, a clerk in a wig gave Sir Lindsay Hoyle all the information she had. Some MPs were stunned. Others wore faces as long as violas.

No sooner had Sir Keir sat down and been told of Her Majesty’s ailing condition than he had left the room as an opportunity for a full briefing. Truss chose to remain in her place only in her mind. The weight of the pressure on her shoulders had just increased by a few thousand tons.

A few feet above this unfolding scene of shock, the press gallery was a swarm of frenzied activity. It doesn’t take much to make the well-tuned noses of lobby journalists quiver, and after she canceled her meeting with her Privy Council the previous evening, it was clear that the Queen’s health had deteriorated.

With nothing confirmed yet, the debate hobbled on, though it should be said without great purpose. Soon Sir Keir returned to his seat. He looked pale, rattled.

No sooner had Keir Starmer sat down and been told of Her Majesty's ailing condition than he had left the room as an opportunity for a full briefing.

No sooner had Keir Starmer sat down and been told of Her Majesty’s ailing condition than he had left the room as an opportunity for a full briefing.

It was 12:36 p.m. when the chairman finally intervened. The palace had issued an unprecedented statement. The Queen’s doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health,” it said.

And the room was so quiet you could hear a mosquito flapping its wings.

Sir Lindsay had been in a bad mood all morning, by the way.

He was furious that Truss’ energy statement had been made available to Parliament just five minutes before the debate started.

Not now, he returned to more paternal tones, but his voice was raspy, higher pitched.

“I know I speak for the whole House when I say that we send Her Majesty the Queen our best wishes and that she and the Royal Family are in our thoughts and prayers at this time,” he announced solemnly. Without further fanfare Sir Lindsay went on with the debate, as was certainly right.

The wheels of government must keep turning.

But the few who remained in the Chamber seemed steeped in melancholy. At 1:10 p.m., former company secretary Andrea Leadsom got up.

“May God bless the queen,” she announced with feeling. ‘Listen, hear,’ MPs replied. Hear, hear.

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