PMQs Review: The One with Bonko’s Ghost

Theresa May speaking in prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (Pic: Parliament)

Theresa May speaking in prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (Pic: Parliament) - Credit: Parliament

With Theresa May enjoying working out her notice, this week's PMQs was dominated by somebody who wasn't there.

Theresa May seems to be enjoying working out her notice. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't have to write reams of handover notes for her successor, who has never knowingly read a briefing document.

It's not quite Margaret Thatcher's "I'm enjoying this!" - although, who knows, maybe we'll see that in her final appearance? - but she's even allowing herself a few digs at her own side. Yes, she pointed out she had three times brought a withdrawal deal to the Commons and three times had it voted down in response to Labour and SNP questioners. But be in no doubt they were aimed at the Brexit-blocking ERG group sat behind her.

With demob-happy May batting the questions away for singles like her hero, the considerably more Brexit-enthusiastic Geoff Boycott, the oddly-mute session felt dominated by someone who wasn't there. Boris Johnson was like Banquo's ghost. Bonko's ghost, if you will.

Jeremy Corbyn, too tied up in his internal wrangles to tackle the defining issue of the day, went on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. It's a good subject for him, in that he actually cares about it and is, at least on this, right.

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He questioned why the UK had supplied Saudi Arabia with more than £4.5bn of "deadly" weapons and insisted a Court of Appeal judgment should act as a "wake-up call".

May brushed it off, hiding behind the legal case, before resorting to her catch-all response to Corbyn on foreign affairs ("Let's just look at some of the relationships he supports... he never backs Britain and he should never be prime minister.") It was all desperately forgettable.

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So thank goodness for Ian Blackford, as no-one ever writes. Angus Robertson's successor as Westminster leader, so often the David Moyes to his Alex Ferguson, usually only rises heckles but today brought thunder as he heaped opprobrium on May's own likely inheritor.

"Prime minister, before you exit office, will you pledge to never vote for a successor willing to impose a devastating no-deal Brexit on all of us?," he shouted. May, glancing over her shoulder, reminded him she voted for an EU withdrawal deal but Blackford's party didn't.

Blackford turned his fire on Johnson (mainly) and Hunt. "My goodness, it's no wonder she's leaving - that was no answer to a question. The prime minister is showing gross cowardice," he hollered.

"On the one hand, the Tories are asking people to put their faith in the most incompetent foreign secretary in a century, a man who has made a career out of lying, who has spent his week avoiding the media. Staging photos and playing to the extreme delusions of the Tory shires.

"On the other hand, we have the most incompetent health secretary in our history, a man who writes books on privatising our NHS. The Conservatives clearly don't like the truth.

"In her last days in office, will she finally act in the best interests of these islands - not the Conservative Party - and admit that neither of the candidates for office should ever be elected prime minister?"

May replied: "Either of the candidates for this high office would do a darn sight better job than anybody sitting on any of those benches." Ouch.

The truth is, of course, that the SNP are licking their lips at Johnson taking offer, the greatest recruiting sergeant Scottish independence has ever had. Blackford could well find a new lease of life.

Amid the uproar that followed his comments, Sarah Newton (Conservative, Truro and Falmouth) rose. "Seldom have I had such a welcome in this House, Mr Speaker," she jolly-hockey-sticked. She shouldn't get used to it.

Finally, Paul Masterton, the baby-faced MP for East Renfrewshire asked the prime minister if she would wish the best of luck to all the British tennis players at Wimbledon, which begins next week. May took him up on the offer. Masterton looked very pleased with himself. And outside, Britain kept burning and Boris Johnson marched ever closer to her seat.

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