Minutes before PMQs, the news of Sir Kim Darroch’s resignation broke. Did Jeremy Corbyn make the government squirm over it…?
Minutes – four, five? – before prime minister’s questions, the Sky News ‘breaking’ banner swooshed across TVs in Westminster. Sir Kim Darroch, who Boris Johnson had washed his hands of on live TV the previous evening, had quit as UK ambassador to the US.
Cometh the moment. Could Jeremy Corbyn hurl aside his pre-prepared questions and, thinking on his fee, make the government squirm with six questions delving into this most extraordinary of diplomatic breaches?
Well, look, you know the answer to that. So let’s start from the off.
“I have told him that it was a matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary to leave his position as ambassador. The whole cabinet rightly gave its full support to Sir Kim on Tuesday,” said May.
“Sir Kim has given a lifetime of service to the United Kingdom and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. Good government depends on public servants being able to give full and frank advice. I want all our public servants to have the confidence to do that and I want the House to reflect on the importance of defending our values and principles, particularly when they are under pressure.”
The message was clear and aimed at her almost-certain successor, who repeatedly refused to back Sir Kim in a TV debate the previous evening.
And Corbyn? Well, he moved in like Gordon Smith bearing down on goal for Brighton in the 1983 FA Cup Final and… well, look it up on YouTube.
After a similar platitude on Sir Kim, he chose not to drill down, but use the session to highlight cuts to legal aid and the impact they have had. Which is indeed an important issue BUT NOT MINUTES AFTER ONE OF OUR MOST SENIOR DIPLOMATS WAS EFFECTIVELY FORCED OUT OF HIS JOB BY A FOREIGN LEADER’S TWEETS.
Corbyn said many people welcomed the PM’s talk about burning injustices when she took on the role but argued there are now “legal aid deserts across the whole country”. (Remember May’s burning injustices speech? Try viewing it again now. It’s like watching a video of a diver cockily bouncing up and down on a board when you already know no-one’s put water in the pool.)
May said the question of burning injustices was not just about access to the legal system, adding: “The question of dealing with burning… it’s all very well members of the opposition benches shouting about this, if the Labour Party actually really cared about burning injustices they’d have done a darn sight more when they were in power to deal with [them].”
The Tory MPs behind May loved this, roaring ‘More!’, temporarily forgetting they are not getting more because they had devoted all their energies over the past 12 months trying to get rid of her.
May’s reply, of course, was the cue to Corbyn countering claims of inaction by the previous Labour government with reams of statistics on child poverty, expenditure on health, education etc. But Corbyn thinks the last Labour government ended in 1951, so didn’t.
Otherwise, May accused Labour of anti-Semitism and Corbyn accused the Tories of Islamophobia – all good if you consider swapping accusations of racism a bit of political sport. It all got Andrew Bowie, a Scottish Tory backbencher previously best known for absolutely nothing, to get over-excited, leading Speaker Bercow to castigate him: “Mr Bowie! You are as noisy as your illustrious late namesake, David Bowie. But sadly nothing like as melodic, my dear chap.”
But the best exchange of the day came from Patrick Grady, SNP MP for Glasgow North, who reeled off a list of major anniversaries which took place during May’s premiership – 100 years since the Armistice, 100 years of women’s suffrage and, next week, 50 years since the moon landing.
“In 50 or 100 years’ time, won’t history judge Brexit and her legacy to be one giant leap backwards for the people of these islands?”.
“No,” said May. And the diver crashed head-first on to the pool floor.