The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, has disclosed the contents of a mysterious note she was handed in the House of Commons on the day the Queen died.
Keir Starmer was giving his response to the government’s energy statement and the cost of living crisis when Nadhim Zahawi, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, whispered into the prime minister’s ear before handing her a folded note on 8 September. A similar note was passed to Rayner, Starmer’s deputy.
Rayner has revealed the dilemma she faced as she contemplated how to interrupt the Labour leader while the television cameras were running.
She told the News Agents podcast, presented by Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel, on Wednesday that the note was written in “plain English” and said: “The Queen is unwell and Keir needs to leave the chamber as soon as possible to be briefed.”
Rayner and Starmer were briefed by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary. At 12.20pm, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen was unwell and doctors were concerned for her health, with senior members of the royal family travelling to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to be with her. At 6:30pm that day, the Palace announced the monarch had died aged 96.
Rayner told the podcast: “I read between the lines on that, because you don’t get a note saying the Queen is unwell if she’s got a bit of a cough or a cold.”
The MP for Ashton-under-Lyne added: “I was trying to get the note to [Starmer] without being too dramatic, but also not knowing exactly what was going on, but I needed to get him out of the chamber.
“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.”
Rayner said when the note was passed, she looked over and caught the eye of Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, who indicated that she needed to speak to Sir Keir immediately.
“He’s giving me the nod of ‘this is actually quite urgent’,” she said. “So I kind of knew that it was quite an important moment.”
The deputy Labour leader said she was also concerned about how and when the news of the Queen’s death might emerge, and did not want that to happen before Starmer had been briefed.
“If Keir was at full throttle when the news broke, then I haven’t protected him from the circumstances.”