HENRY DEEDES watches Commons as news of the Queen's health spread

Prime Minister’s face morphed into shock… and shades of George Bush on 9/11: HENRY DEEDES watches the Commons as news of the Queen’s deteriorating health spread

The House of Commons at its liveliest is a merciless cockpit, pumped with passion and rambunctious debate. But when it retreats without warning into sombre eeriness – that’s when you know something bad is afoot.

It happened yesterday shortly after midday, not long after Nadhim Zahawi’s powerful form came striding into the chamber, a scribbled note dangling from his fingers.

MPs were debating the Government’s plans to tackle soaring energy bills. Tempers had been running high.

But the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had no interest in the proceedings. He made straight for the Prime Minister on the frontbench.

He leant in to speak to her and his first words sent her bolt upright, as though she’d been jolted with a high voltage cattle prod.

Nadhim Zahawi and Liz Truss have a discussion in the House

Zahawi’s left hand was pumping up and down, clearly talking something through with her point by point. His pained expression suggested it was a matter of upmost urgency.

Indeed it was. There was news of the Queen from Balmoral. Usually when PMs are briefed like this in the middle of a debate, they pay little mind. More often than not, they roll their eyes and wave their messengers away with a dismissive brush of the hand.

Liz Truss, however, had turned purposefully towards Zahawi, fixing him firmly in the eye and giving him her undivided attention.

As Zahawi’s lips moved, the PM’s face was a smorgasbord of emotions: part confusion and part concern, morphing into shock.

Shades here of George W Bush’s reaction upon being informed by his chief of staff that a second plane had flown into the Twin Towers on that day of infamy on 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 in a Florida classroom reading to pupils from The Pet Goat.

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

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

Along the Opposition benches, necks craned like startled geese. Something serious had occurred. Quite how serious became clear when Zahawi’s jotted note began winging its way through a sea of hands to Labour’s frontbench.

With Sir Keir still on his feet, it was left to his deputy Angela Rayner to read it. She appeared dismissive at first. Perhaps it was just a precaution, the Queen’s doctors being overly careful. Eventually, the severity of the situation began to sink in. Bad news in this place travels fast. Reports of the Queen’s condition spread across the green benches faster than a prairie fire with a tail wind. All the fury of what had hitherto been a lively debate swiftly evaporated.

By the Speaker’s chair, a wigged clerk fed Sir Lindsay Hoyle whatever information she had. Some MPs sat aghast. Others wore faces as long as violas.

No sooner had Sir Keir sat down and been told of Her Majesty’s ailing state than he was out of the Chamber like a shot for a full briefing. Truss elected to remain in place alone in her thoughts. The weight of pressure on her shoulders had just increased by a few thousand tons.

Several feet above this unfolding scene of shock, the press gallery was a swarm of frenzied activity. It doesn’t take much to get lobby journalists’ highly-tuned noses twitching and having cancelled her meeting with her Privy Council the previous evening, it was obvious the Queen’s health had declined.

With nothing yet confirmed, the debate staggered on, though with no great purpose it should be said. Soon, Sir Keir returned to his seat. He appeared blanched, rattled.

No sooner had Keir Starmer sat down and been told of Her Majesty’s ailing state than he was out of the Chamber like a shot for a full briefing

It was 12.36pm when the Speaker eventually intervened. The Palace had released an unprecedented statement. The Queen’s doctors were ‘concerned for Her Majesty’s health,’ it read.

And the chamber was so quiet you could have heard a mosquito flap its wings.

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

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

Not now, he reverted to more avuncular tones but his voice was raspier, higher in pitch.

‘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,’ he announced solemnly. With no further fanfare, Sir Lindsay proceeded with the debate as was surely right.

The wheels of government must continue to turn.

But those few who remained in the Chamber appeared steeped in melancholy. At 1.10pm, former business secretary Andrea Leadsom rose.

‘May God bless the Queen,’ she announced with feeling. ‘Hear, hear,’ MPs replied. Hear, hear.

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