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MPs renew calls for virtual Parliament to return as Alok Sharma is tested for coronavirus

Harry Yorke
Alok Sharma appeared visibly unwell in the House of Commons - Barcroft Media

The Government is facing renewed calls to revert back to a virtual Parliament after the Business Secretary was forced to self-isolate after appearing visibly unwell in the House of Commons. 

Senior MPs on Wednesday branded the decision to force MPs to return to Westminster "reckless" as Alok Sharma was tested for coronavirus and returned home to await the results. 

It came after Mr Sharma was seen repeatedly mopping his forehead with a handkerchief at the dispatch box shortly after 4pm. 

During the debate, Mr Sharma's counterpart, the shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, passed him a glass of water at one point. Mr Miliband later sent his best wishes to Mr Sharma for a quick recovery.

Parliamentary authorities are understood to have given the area in which Mr Sharma was standing a deep clean, with sources stressing that MPs were sitting at least two metres apart. 

Whilst the Business Secretary's condition remained unclear on Wednesday evening, it was later pointed out that he had participated in two votes on Tuesday, when MPs were forced to queue for up to half a mile outside the Commons chamber. 

Following his appearance, his spokesman said: "Alok Sharma began feeling unwell when in the chamber delivering the second reading of the corporate governance and insolvency bill.

"In line with guidance, he has been tested for coronavirus and is returning home to self-isolate."

The incident is likely to alarm Boris Johnson, who just hours beforehand had announced that MPs forced to shield at home would be able to vote by proxy.

The Government has already committed to bring forward fresh proposals for those unable to attend Parliament to continue participating via videolink. 

It is also likely to reignite criticism of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, who on Tuesday defended the decision to scrap hybrid proceedings on the grounds that the public expected MPs to provide "effective scrutiny that puts ministers under real pressure".

Responding, Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "This is just awful. The Government stopped MPs from working from home and asked us to return to a building where social distancing is impossible. 

"MPs are travelling home to every part of the country tonight. Reckless doesn't even begin to describe it." 

Echoing her comments, Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP for Newcastle North, said: "He really didn't look well, and  I hope he's ok. 

"He should not have been in the Commons today. In fact, most of us shouldn't have been. The Government is advising everyone else to avoid public transport and work from home if possible to avoid spreading Covid, but made us all do the opposite."