Bit of a different day at PMQs. There wasn’t a peep from Remain Corner where Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and Sarah Woollaston like to hold court. Perhaps they’re all re-training as Uber-drivers in case a snap-election renders them jobless. And we heard nothing from the Labour party’s Bullingdon Club of Brexit-saboteurs, Yvette Cooper, Stephen Kinnock and Chuka Umunna.
Thank goodness Ken Clarke spared us his usual parrot-recital about suspending Article 50. And the ‘people’s vote’ wasn’t mentioned at all. Instead Labour’s C-listers had their turn. Jack Dromey, a gifted nihilist, wore a bright summery jacket which contrasted sharply with the dire news he recited from his sat-nav.
‘We are 58 days from a cliff,’ he quailed, ignoring advice from the whips to avoid driving metaphors while Fiona Onasanya MP languishes in jail for lying to the cops about a speeding offence.
Sad Jack claimed that a no-deal Brexit would ‘impoverish our country'. Impoverish Britain? Strange words to describe an extra £39 billion for public services.
Chief of the anti-Brexit camp, Speaker Bercow, interrupted less than usual but he still managed a flash of blatant bias. When Jeremy Corbyn was weathering a storm of Tory abuse, Bercow called the house to order and singled out Michael Ellis as the chief loud-mouth. He told Ellish to button it.
Corbyn resumed: ‘As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted,’ which sounded like a dig at the Speaker.
But the Speaker offered no help to Tory backbencher Douglas Ross who was barracked throughout his comments on SNP-led Moray council. The public service fatcats working for the council, he told us, are receiving large salaries while cuts are inflicted on library services, swimming pools and music lessons. Ross’s words were made inaudible by the SNP’s Westminster posse. Bercow, suddenly deaf, let this attack on free speech pass.
Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy was not without purpose today. He spoke airily about bringing the Remain and the Leave sides together and he urged the PM to consider a ‘comprehensive Customs Union’ and ‘a strong Single Market deal’. These tailor-made arrangements are pure fiction, as Corbyn knows, but he plugs them because he’s preparing for a post-Brexit world where he must justify his multiple positions on Europe. He’ll claim that by endorsing numerous policy options he was always in agreement with somebody, somewhere, about something.
A penitent Mark Harper said that he had opposed the May deal two weeks ago. But he’ll support her Withdrawal Agreement if she applies the anaesthetic and performs a backstop-ectomy. He predicted EU resistance. ‘Give them space,’ he said. ‘They are not going to crumble tomorrow.’
Things will change, he implied, once the bear’s paws close in on the £39 billion honeypot. Today’s big winner was May who seemed refreshed and at ease with herself. The clouds had lifted from that ashen, troubled, kindly face. For once she gave us no reason to pity her.
Unlike Jeremy Hunt. The foreign secretary, usually an engaged and hyper-active presence at PMQs, sat like an Egyptian statue cobwebbed inside a pyramid. His plan to enter Number 10 by Easter is on hold. What a long face he wore.