PMQs review: Nothing but repeats on TV
PUBLISHED: 14:33 23 January 2019 | UPDATED: 14:47 23 January 2019
Due to technical difficulties the BBC was unable to screen this week’s PMQs and was forced to repeat last week’s. Or so it seemed.
“Nothing has changed,” is May’s catchphrase - it is, admittedly, no “it’s a cracker” - and that was very much the theme of this week’s prime minister’s questions.
Her Brexit deal having stalled like a post-March 29 British-built car - its ‘just-in-time’ components stuck on a lorry just outside Groningen - the main protagonists replayed last week’s in the manner of Mary Poppins Returns. That is, thematically identical to the original, but with the lines more forced.
Just as last week, May was warmed up by an undistinguished Tory backbencher popping up to ask an inconsequential planted question, this time Stephen Kerr (Stirling), who asked whether she agreed with him that there shouldn’t be a second referendum on Scottish independence, that being very much the second referendum which is dominating British political discourse at the moment.
May agreed that he was “absolutely right”, some poor intern in Kerr’s office got to clip the video up for her boss’ Twitter feed and the actual show could begin.
What differed slightly this week is that Jeremy Corbyn managed to stick to a single topic after last week getting bored after two Brexit questions and going off on four other issues. He still shows no ability of being able to adapt his scripted questions to reflect the PM’s previous answer but, you know, baby steps.
Corbyn began by demanding May take a no-deal Brexit off the table, saying: “After the overwhelming defeat of her deal, the prime minister says she wants solutions to the Brexit crisis that command sufficient support in the House.
“The chancellor and business secretary agree, and I quote, there is a large majority opposed to no deal, so will the prime minister listen to her own Cabinet members and take no deal off the table?”
May said the way to avoid no-deal was to work with her to agree a deal, which has been her line for a couple of weeks ago and a fat lot of good it’s done her.
“He has been willing to sit down with Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA without preconditions, yet he won’t meet me to talk about Brexit,” she said.
“In this case he is neither present nor involved.” She done a joke! A joke about a story in the headlines last August but, you know, baby steps.
Corbyn then pressed May to reveal whether she ruled out a customs union with the EU.
Citing an opposition amendment, May said: “The Labour Party used to refer to a comprehensive customs union, then it was a new customs union and now it’s a permanent customs union.
“I’m happy to sit down and talk to him about what he means by that.
“Does he mean accepting the common external tariff? Does he mean accepting the common commercial policy? Does he mean accepting the union customs code? Does he mean accepting EU state aid rules?
“If he won’t talk about it there’s only one conclusion - he hasn’t got a clue.” This isn’t right and fair - Corbyn does know what accepting state aid rules, and he’s opposed if it doesn’t allow him to bring back British Rail sandwiches. As for the other three... actually, fair enough, he probably doesn’t know what they are.
Corbyn warned: “The door of her office might be open but the minds are closed and the prime minister is clearly not listening.” Which isn’t a bad line and, as such, he used it again a couple of questions later.
Elsewhere, a couple of Brexit headbangers got their moment in the sun. Andrew Rosindell, the Romford MP who has demanded that post-Brexit BBC One plays God Save The Queen when it closes at night even though BBC One hasn’t closed at night for 21 years, told her that the “people of Romford remain rock solid on leaving the EU on 29 March”. May told him he was “absolutely right” (the 30% of Romford who voted Remain can go hang, apparently).
And idiot backbencher Peter Bone (Wellingborough) called on the PM to replace her “Remainer ministers” with Tory MPs who “actually believe” in leaving the EU - drawing cheers and jeers in equal measure from Conservative backbenchers.
“Prime minister, your government is stuffed full of Remainer ministers who do not want to leave the European Union, would you replace them with colleagues from these benches who actually believe in upholding the decision of the British people to leave the European Union on March 29?,” he asked.
May responded by saying she had “heard some job applications in my time, but that was quite an interesting one” - Mayspeak for “even someone so unseeing to ineptitude as to continue with Chris Grayling in high office isn’t taking you on, pal”.
Finally, Tim Farron, someone who once had a vague fancy of being prime minister himself, popped up to remind May it was Cumbria Day and offered some local cheeses and beers for her walking trips. Speaker Bercow called him “sort of a one-man tourist board”. Nobody could be bothered cheering or jeering. It was all rather sad.
Come back next week, when nothing will change. Nothing will change.