Theresa May was left red-faced today for attacking a Labour MP for not being in the Commons – when she was actually on sick leave.
During a ding-dong battle with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over NHS funding, May began quoting an interview from Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner where she described her party’s economic plans as “shit-or-bust”.
The Prime Minister pointedly remarked that Rayner was not sitting on the opposition front bench for Prime Minister’s Questions, in a bid to further embarrass the Labour leadership.
After opposition MPs shouted back that Rayner was undergoing medical treatment, May was forced to bring her attack to a halt and apologise.
A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said he believed the Tory whips were told about Rayner’s week-long absence, but a speaking after PMQs a Conservative spokesman was “not aware” if the information had been passed on.
Addressing Corbyn this afternoon, May said: “What do we know about the Labour Party’s economic policies? Well we were told all about them from the description from the Shadow Education Secretary who I see is not in her place on the front bench today.”
After being informed that Rayner was absent on health grounds, May said: “I do apologise, I did not realise the Shadow Education Secretary was herself undergoing medical treatment.
“I apologise unreservedly for that comment.”
Rayner’s comments about Labour’s economic policy came in an interview with The Spectator, in which she justified plans to raise taxes and increase public spending.
She said: “We are in different times, radical times where we need to have a real investment in Britain’s future. Genuinely. I don’t mean that as a slogan, I mean it as an economic strategy.
“It is a bit of a shit-or-bust strategy, I get that. It’s a high-risk strategy.
“But all of Britain’s great advancements in the past have been because we’ve had the gumption to take a risk.”
Asked after PMQs if the Tory whips had been informed of Rayner’s absence, a spokesman for the Labour leader said: “As I understand it, they were told she was off sick this week.”
He added: “I think she’ll be back next week.”
Asked about the incident, a Number 10 political spokesman said: “I’m not aware of whether the whips were informed or not.”