A strange PMQs. Usually the session is dominated by honking throats and empurpled faces. Today there were interesting facts and useful opinions. Amazing!
An expertly briefed Jeremy Corbyn put Theresa May on the spot by noting that she’d omitted to say ‘Chequers’ in her conference speech or during recent performances in parliament. So is it dead? No, she said. And the question forced her to mention her orphaned love-child by its baptismal name – ‘the Chequers plan’ – for the first time in weeks.
Next, a financial shock. Corbyn asked her to confirm Philip Hammond's warning that quitting without a deal will still land us with a divorce bill of 36 billion smackers. May hedged, but didn’t deny it.
Two strikes against her. Then, even scarier news. According to Corbyn, the PM signed the following agreement, last December, with no expiry date:
‘In the absence of agreed solutions, the UK will retain full alignment with the rules of the single market and the customs union.’
In other words, no deal will mean no Brexit, ever. Life imprisonment without parole. If she can’t get Brussels to sign a pact, May has pre-committed us to eternal toil in the prison-camp. She dodged this one too and waffled about her hopes of a marvellous deal.
Tory backbencher Julian Lewis rubbished the fantasy of a hard border in Ireland. ‘Who would construct it?’ he asked. The British wouldn’t. Nor would the Irish. What about Donald Trump? ‘Unless the EU army plans to march in and build it,’ he said, ‘it surely can never happen.’
Ben Bradshaw was called and everyone expected him to big up the People’s Vote. Instead he spoke about a constituent imprisoned in the Gulf. It should alarm Remainers and Clegg-maniacs that the Brussels-hugging Bradshaw didn’t use his question to push for Referendum Two. The Clegg-mania argument is simple. Everyone in Britain completely misread the rules. We should have known that a referendum is a two-leg fixture, like the later stages of the Champions League, and the present score-line of 1-0 to the Brexiteers is only a half-time result. To judge from today’s session, there’s scant support for a second round, even on the Remainer-crammed green benches.
Bercow, the future-ex-Speaker, was very subdued today. Paradoxically he delivered a masterclass in how to chair a session of parliament: his presence palpable, his person invisible. Had he used this method throughout his Speakership he’d be as popular as the much-missed Betty Boothroyd.
But his problems aren’t over. Teresa Pearce mentioned a survivor of workplace harassment who was being treated as ‘the problem’, and not the ‘victim’. It all sounded depressingly familiar until she added this: 'What I can do to help my constituent return to work and feel safe – when her employer is this house?'
May called for the ‘culture and practice’ of parliament to be reformed.
‘This should worry us all,’ she added. And she used the term ‘all’ rather than, say, ‘both sides of the house’. ‘All’ includes the Chair. No accident.
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