PMQs review: Happy Groundhog Day

Theresa May speaking during prime minister's questions in the Commons

Theresa May speaking during prime minister's questions in the Commons - Credit: Parliament

MATT WITHERS watches Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn finally stage a rhetorical battle worthy of Parliament's history. Only joking - it was rubbish

It's Groundhog Day on Saturday! It was on February 2, 1887 in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania, that the tradition was first observed, best known in this country for the 1993 comedy film.

It's not known if Theresa May has seen Groundhog Day, or any comedy films, or indeed any films. But she would surely empathise with the main character's conundrum of waking up and reliving the same day every day, with no words or action seemingly able to break the time loop.

Last night May won a Commons vote on an amendment to her Brexit agreement which would replace the Irish backstop guarantee with 'alternative arrangements', a replacement a chorus of national leaders and the EU's most senior officials have already said is not going to happen.

But it still begs the question: what exactly are these alternative arrangements? And, in one rare break from the usual routine, Jeremy Corbyn actually asked it.

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(Incidentally, Corbyn had a relatively good PMQs today, so expect the USA to invade Venezuela shortly to draw attention from it. That's how the military-industrial complex works.)

'Following the vote in the House last night against no deal, the prime minister is again going to attempt to renegotiate the backstop on the basis of finding alternative arrangements,' he read out loud.

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'Could she set out today what these alternative arrangements might be?'. ('What are they?' shouted a female colleague sounding rather like Emily Thornberry several times.)

May said there were a number of options for alternative arrangements to the backstop.

'They [Conservative MPs] have put forward proposals such as a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit to the backstop, and the political declaration already references alternative arrangements and raises a number of proposals that could be addressed such as mutual recognition of trusted trader schemes.'

So much to unpack here! Firstly, given most Conservative backbenchers couldn't be trusted to put together a Kinder Surprise toy, the fact that they've managed to crack the fiendishly difficult Irish border problem is quite something.

And what are these other things? I'm pretty sure I saw Unilateral Exit Mechanism supporting Add N to (X) at the Sheffield Leadmill in 1999, although that doesn't seem relevant. And 'mutual recognition of trusted trader schemes' sounds like something said very quickly by someone reading out the terms and conditions for a payday loan company on a commercial radio advert.

May's faith in creating, in the space of two months, a technical solution to such an intractable problem is quite touching given (a) Crossrail is now scheduled to finish sometime in the next century, (b) the nation's second-largest airport was brought to a standstill for three days last month by a drone that may not even have existed and (c) the last technical thing the country made that actually worked was Metal Mickey.

May later said: '[Corbyn] stands up regularly and says he doesn't want no deal. I'm working to ensure we get a deal.

'He has opposed every move by this government to get a deal. He's the one who is risking no deal.'

Corbyn reiterated MPs had voted to remove a no-deal Brexit as an option and later said the PM has 'got to move on from the red lines she put down in the first place'.

Concluding his remarks, Corbyn said MPs had a responsibility to bring people together over Brexit.

He added: 'I look forward to meeting the prime minister to discuss a solution that could, in my view, unite the country. Changes to the backstop alone will not be sufficient.'

Well, Corbyn finally meeting the PM is at least something very different. Perhaps they will find a solution, unite the country and, like Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, wake to I Got You Babe the next morning, in love and vowing to start a new life together.

Or perhaps a scowling Corbyn will be seen heading out of Downing Street 30 minutes later alongside Seumas Milne, the whole sorry farrago to start afresh tomorrow. Who knows?

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