PMQs review: May hoarse, but both leaders have a mare
PUBLISHED: 14:59 13 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:59 13 March 2019
16 days to go and parliamentarians are still displaying all the urgency of an over-80s rugby match.
16 days to go. 16. Pretty much the time it would take to watch all five Heimat films until the UK crashes out of the EU with - seemingly - no deal. And yet Parliament, as evidenced by today’s flaccid PMQs session, continues to sail gladly on, like when every four years characters in soap operas weirdly neglect to mention there’s a World Cup on.
Take Mark Pawsey, a plodding Tory backbencher whose pretty much sole contribution to Parliament since taking his seat has been to campaign against any measures to limit the tobacco industry.
He took to his feet today to ask the prime minister if she would “welcome the great work of pro-growth Rugby Borough Council”, a question he had to read, so complex was it. Theresa May responded she was “very happy to commend the work of his local council”. Pawsey has since tweeted he is “very pleased that @theresa_may joined me today in welcoming @rugbybc pro-growth policies”.
16 days! It’s like the band playing on as the Titanic sunk, only if the band were a bunch of feckless chancers with nothing more than combs and paper to play.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The main issue at play at today’s PMQs is that May has a sore throat hindering her voice. International development secretary Penny Mordaunt had “very helpfully offered to teach me sign language”, said May, which pretty much counts as a joke for her.
First up was Tory headbanger John Baron, a hard-Brexit obsessive whose 18 years in Parliament have gone under most people’s radars. He reminded that the UK “profitably trade with the majority of the world’s GDP outside the EU on largely WTO terms” and urged her to pursue a no-deal Brexit.
(NB this is untrue. The UK trades with 24 countries and territories under WTO terms alone. With far more it has trade agreements as part of the EU. But hey-ho. May insisted her deal was a “good deal”).
Then came Jeremy Corbyn, who always sounds disappointed when he is forced to speak on Brexit, like he’s made it to the final round of Pointless only to discover the categories to choose from are Books, Art and Film.
Corbyn asked May to confirm how she would vote on the no-deal Brexit motion, which seeks to rule out leaving without a withdrawal agreement but also notes leaving without a deal remains the default position in UK and EU law.
The PM, perhaps happy to have to limit her words, replied: “I will be voting for the motion in my name.”
Corbyn countered by saying her Brexit strategy was “in tatters” and her deal was “dead”, before criticising May for having “refused to listen”. The tin-eared castigating the tin-eared.
He added: “When will she listen to those workers who are concerned about their jobs, those businesses concerned about their future and accept the case that there has to be a negotiated customs union with the EU?”
He claimed the Labour alternative was the “credible show in town” which was ready to be negotiated.
But May said Corbyn repeatedly voted in a way that “brings no-deal closer”, before adding: “I may not have my own voice but I do understand the voice of the country.” That, presumably, was the line her aides want to be the clip the News at 10. Like Iain Duncan Smith’s “do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man,” which propelled him into Downing Street for a decade.
“I do have sympathy with the prime minister on her voice and I hope it soon recovers,” said Corbyn. “I understand how painful this is.” Oh, you have no idea how painful this is.
Elsewhere Peter Bone - the weirdo Brexiteer who used to namecheck his wife every time he spoke in the Commons until he demonstrated his commitment to Leave in every form and, er, left her - popped up to ask if May would back the Malthouse amendment, a nonsensical unicorn which aims for the UK to leave the EU without a deal while simultaneously having a transition period.
May looked pain. The plan was unworkable, she explained as if teaching a particularly slow child how to tie their shoelaces. as any transition period would require a deal with the EU.
Anyway, 16 days, people. 16 days.