Brexit is in a month’s time and, at today’s PMQs, it felt like both main party leaders had made an unspoken pact not to discuss it.
It is a sign of the weirdness that permeates British politics these days that for the second successive week the dominant issue was pretty much ignored in the leaders’ set-piece clash.
Last week both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn remained shtum on the fact that a chunk of their parliamentary parties had done one to form a dining club at a restaurant previously frequented by trainee footballers and JLS.
This week, with both forced into awkward u-turns on their Brexit policies, it looked like a Stalin-Ribbentrop (you know who’s who) pact had been secretly signed to quietly forget that WE ARE LEAVING THE EU IN A MONTH’S TIME.
But first, the obsequious pointless question for May to warm up. Julian Knight, a Tory backbencher who wrote a book called The Royal Wedding for Dummies – £4.31 on Amazon – and is now a trade envoy to Mongolia, asked the prime minister to agree that Birmingham council should sort out the city’s bin strike. It showed what would happen under a hard-left government, he added.
The prime minister said it was a matter for Labour-controlled Birmingham to sort out and that it showed what a hard-left Labour government would be like. With this, each one of us a few seconds closer to death, we moved on.
Corbyn challenged Theresa May to explain whether a ‘shambolic’ Brexit or ‘failed austerity policies’ were to blame for a predicted slowdown in economic growth.
The Labour leader – reading, as ever – highlighted Bank of England forecasts and struggles for the manufacturing sector before casting doubt on her desire to tackle ‘burning injustices’ during her time in Downing Street.
May defended the government’s economic record and instead claimed working people ‘always pay the price’ of a Labour government.
Corbyn pressed the point further, saying manufacturing was already in recession and car manufacturing was declining at the steepest rate for a decade.
‘Does the prime minister blame her shambolic Brexit or her government’s lack of industrial strategy for this very sad state of affairs?,’ he said, either very proud of the clever line or, just as likely, reading it out again through sheer incompetence.
‘What do we know would be a worse thing for the economy in this country?,’ responded May with the originality and speed of thought for which she is rightly famed. ‘It’d be a run on the pound, capital flight and one thousand billion of borrowing under a Labour government!’.
Changing tack, Corbyn listed a series of types of poverty increases to a chorus of ‘up!’ from his backbenches. Unfortunately it got so rowdy it had to be halted by anthropomorphic tomato John Bercow and Corbyn repeated the whole tedious farrago again to ensure it could be clipped up properly for his Facebook fans.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford can often be accused of speaking Double Dutch, but today he did the real thing in welcoming the president of the Dutch Senate, watching on from the public gallery.
He warned 100,000 jobs in Scotland were under threat from a no-deal Brexit and the Scottish Government’s top economic adviser had warned this could create a recession worse than the 2008 financial crisis.
‘The prime minister must rule out no deal, right here, right now,’ he said. ‘Why is she still blackmailing the people of this country?’
May was having none of this. The real threat to the economy of Scotland was the SNP government which had raised income tax, raised the cap on annual council tax increases for homeowners and introduced workplace car parking charges.
Yes, workplace car parking charges (which are a matter for Scottish local authorities anyway).
Quite what Ankie Broekers-Knol, president of the Dutch senate, will report back on return to The Hague we can only speculate. Probably ‘they’re crashing out of the EU in a matter of weeks and they’re arguing about car parking. Krankzinnigheid!’.*