Andrea Leadsom tried to sidestep setting a date for the next meaningful vote on Brexit by reciting poetry at the despatch box instead.
The Commons leader Andrea Leadsom also quoted Jane Austen and William Shakespeare, although her Labour counterpart Valerie Vaz refused to join the Commons love-in and instead demanded to know the Brexit voting timetable.
Leadsom’s literary performance came as she confirmed MPs will consider a series of Brexit statutory instruments and hold general debates on serious violence, NHS, anti-Semitism, and potential future free trade agreements next week, a period which was initially scheduled to be recess.
She added: ‘It’s Valentine’s Day so I thought a little poem might be in order – Labour is red, Tories are blue, our future is bright, with a good deal in sight, for the UK and our friends in the EU.’
Vaz said she did not find any of next week’s business ‘very funny’, adding: ‘This is really serious.’
The Labour frontbencher also said the government was involved in ‘kite flying’ after senior Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins was reported to have been overheard in a Brussels bar saying May planned to wait until the end of March before confronting MPs with a choice between her deal or a lengthy delay to Brexit.
She said: ‘When will she announce the timetable for the meaningful vote?’
Leadsom, responding to a series of questions raised by Vaz on different issues, said: ‘As Jane Austen said ‘Is not general incivility the very essence of love?’ – so I shall take her slightly unhumorous remarks to be the beginning of a real friendship between us.’
She added the prime minister has been clear that Brexit talks are ongoing and a meaningful vote will be brought forward when the government achieves ‘the progress we need’ – with MPs having the chance to table amendments to a motion later this month if such agreement has not been reached.
SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart described Leadsom’s business statement as ‘curious’, before warning: ‘There’s only 43 days until we’re supposed to leave the EU but there’s nothing in this business statement which indicates when we’ll have a meaningful vote to determine what basis we leave, if we leave on a basis at all.
‘This is getting beyond the joke and this government is taking this House for mugs.’
Wishart added: ‘Given it’s Valentine’s Day – Labour is red, Tories are blue, the message from Scotland is we’re staying in the EU.’
In her reply, Leadsom noted: ‘I think he means the UK according to the people of Scotland, but that doesn’t rhyme, I’ll grant him that.’
She went on: ‘In the immortal words of Shakespeare, ‘His unkindness may defeat my life but never taint my love’ – so I remain very fond of him.’
The public who were witnessing this unfold in the House of Commons were less than impressed as the clock ticks down to March 29th.
The comedian and television presenter Sue Perkins suggested her own poem: ‘How about this? Labour is red, Tories are blue, you have precisely 43 days in which to renegotiate complex legislation and trading agreements, stop wasting it by grandstanding in the mother of all parliaments… and spouting shit poetry too.’