Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner will step in for Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs on Wednesday while he continues to self-isolate, the party has said.
A member of the leader of the opposition’s household is “still awaiting” the results of a test for Covid-19, after the party said on Monday that they had developed possible symptoms.
“Keir Starmer is still awaiting the test result for a member of his family,” the Labour leader’s spokesperson said on Tuesday evening.
“Angela Rayner, deputy leader and shadow first secretary of state, will be taking his place. We have informed Number 10.”
Sir Keir has been self-isolating since Monday morning “in line with NHS guidance”, according to the party.
It is understood that Boris Johnson will face off with Ms Rayner on Wednesday, despite the convention that the other faction nominates someone else to stand if the prime minister or leader of the opposition is absent.
Mr Johnson’s de facto deputy Dominic Raab is currently on a visit to the US.
During Monday’s debate on the UK Internal Markets bill, Sir Keir was replaced by former leader Ed Miliband, who castigated the prime minister over his failure to state which part of the bill — voted through by MPs — would prevent a blockade in the Irish Sea, the pretext by which Mr Johnson sought to persuade rebellious Tories to vote for a bill breaching his own Brexit withdrawal agreement.
In last week’s PMQs, Sir Keir accused the government of not being able to “get the basics right” following reports that people were being denied Covid-19 tests and forced to drive to test centres hundreds of miles away, telling Boris Johnson: “I just want it fixed”.
Six days later, accusations of mismanagement of the testing system continued to rain down on the government, with Labour’s Wes Streeting calling it a “bloody mess” after Twickenham MP Munira Wilson said her constituents had found they could only access tests locally in west London if they pretended to live in Aberdeen.
The symptoms in Sir Keir’s household appeared amid shortages of tests across the country, with reports that at times on Monday no tests of any kind were available in the 10 areas with the highest infection rates.
Speaking to the TUC congress via video link from a spare room in his London home, Sir Keir revealed that he only got a test arranged because his wife Victoria works in the NHS.
“People shouldn’t have to traipse halfway around the country in search of a Covid test when they’re sick,” he said. “Yesterday, my family were able to get a test quickly when we needed one, but only because my wife works in the NHS in a hospital that provides tests for staff and their families.
“For thousands of people across the country, it’s a very different story. After six months of this pandemic, that’s completely unacceptable.
“And whatever Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock might say, it’s not the British people that are to blame for these mistakes. It is not the civil servants, care home workers or a mutant algorithm.
“It’s the government. It’s the government that’s holding Britain back. And we should never let them forget that.”
As news broke yesterday of the possible infection, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister has spoken to the leader of the opposition this morning and gave best wishes to him and his family.”
Additional reporting by PA