Angela Rayner “read between the lines” as soon as she was handed a note in the House of Commons on the day Queen Elizabeth II died. The deputy Labour leader has opened up on the moment she became aware of the late monarch’s ill health and the “shock” of realising everything was about to change.
Sir Keir Starmer was on his feet in the Chamber responding to Liz Truss’s energy bills plan on September 8 when a note was passed to the Ashton-under-Lyne MP.
The Opposition leader was in the full flow of his speech when it became clear something was happening.
While Ms Rayner was handed a note, Nadhim Zahawi had entered the House of Commons and was urgently whispering in the Prime Minister’s ear.
Explaining what was written on the folded-up piece of paper, she told the News Agents podcast: “The note was that the Queen is unwell and Keir needs to leave the Chamber as soon as possible to be briefed.
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“I read between the lines on that, because you don’t get a note saying the Queen’s unwell if she has a bit of a cough or cold.”
The senior MP said she quickly felt “the gravity” of the situation and that the coming hours were “going to change everything”.
Ms Rayner added that she was unsure when to pass the note to Sir Keir, eager not to disrupt him during his speech.
“I was trying to get the note to him without being too dramatic, but also not knowing exactly what was going on, but I needed to get him out of the chamber,” she said.
“I kept the note and I was trying to think, how am I going to get it to Keir without totally ruining what he’s trying to say, because if someone is trying to give you information when you’re in the middle of speaking it’s the most distracting thing, so I was waiting for the opportunity to do it.
“I was kind of waiting for my opportunity, and then I looked over at Mr Speaker, and he was giving me the nod to say ‘this is actually quite urgent,’ ie. don’t wait long.”
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The deputy Labour leader said she also feared the news breaking while Sir Keir was still on his feet.
“If Keir was at full throttle when the news broke, then I haven’t protected him from the circumstances,” she said.
Ms Truss and Sir Keir swiftly both left the Chamber to be briefed by the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, on what was happening.
A statement was released shortly afterwards by Buckingham Palace announcing that the Queen’s doctors were concerned for her health.
Addressing MPs in the Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “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.”
The Queen’s death was announced by the Palace at 6.30pm on the same day.
Ms Rayner said: “We had all known the Queen was getting very frail and there had been conversations about what would happen.
“But it was still such a shock – it changed everything.”
“My family are big royalists and my children’s names are James and Charles,” she added.