PMQs verdict: End of term tussle leaves both bruised

PUBLISHED: 13:36 18 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:36 18 July 2018

Theresa May speaks during PMQs
Photo: PA

Theresa May speaks during PMQs Photo: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Those summer holidays are looming large in everyone’s mind.

But for the prime minister and the leader of the opposition the final PMQs before recess offers one last chance to land a blow that would have the other wincing well into the holiday period.

Jeremy Corbyn hit a raw nerve immediately pointing out some cabinet members’ close ties to the Vote Leave campaign in the wake of the Electoral Commission’s findings that they broke spending regulations.

“People are losing trust in this government,” he said. “The transport secretary, international trade secretary and now the Brexit secretary were all members of the Vote Leave committee. The environment secretary was the co-chair ... they have been refereed to the police having refused to cooperate with the Electoral Commission. Will the prime minister guarantee that her cabinet ministers will fully cooperate with the police investigation?”

The prime minister was not happy at that and tried to get Corbyn to retract his “accusation”. He stood firm though adding: “I stated the fact that the EC has made that reference ... These are serious issues that current cabinet ministers were central to the Vote Leave campaign.

“After two years of dither and delay the government has sunk into a mire of chaos and division. The agreement that was supposed to unite the cabinet led to the cabinet falling apart within 48 hours.

“And on Monday the government U-turned to make their own proposals unlawful. Given that the proposals in the White Paper are now obsolete when will the new White Paper be published?”

These were excellent starter questions from Corbyn. Was he about to finish term top of the class?

The clearly rattled prime minister fired back: “The chequers agreement and the White Paper are the basis for the negotiations – and we have already started those negotiations.”

“All very interesting ...” Corbyn pondered as the jeers towards the PM grew. “This is a government in complete chaos. The centrepiece of the White Paper was something called the facilitated customs arrangements ... having spent a week trying to convince their own MPs this cobbled together, mish-mash was worth defending they abandoned it. So what is their plan now for customs?”

Another short answer: “We haven’t abandoned it.”

Corbyn went in for the kill: “Two years on from the referendum, 16 months on from triggering Article 50 .. isn’t the case that the government has no serious negotiating strategy whatsoever?”

But from somewhere May crawled her way back with that trusted tool – the list: “He is just plain wrong. I have a copy of the White Paper here and I am very happy to ensure he gets a copy after this PMQs.

“There are indeed differences between us: I will end free movement, he wants to keep it; I want us out of the customs union, he wants us in; I want us out of the single market, he wants us in; I want us to sign our own trade deals, he wants to hand them over to Brussels; I have ruled out a second referendum, he won’t ... there is no doubt which one of us is respecting the will of the British people and it isn’t him.”

Corbyn deployed a list of his own: “With only three months to go until the final withdrawal agreement the Brexit secretary has resigned, the White Paper is in tatters, the new Brexit secretary is skipping negotiations, two years of negotiations with themselves and they wanted to shut down parliament five days early. Isn’t it the case that the government is failing to negotiate Brexit, failing to meet the needs of the country because they are too busy fighting each other?”

It was a strong showing from Corbyn. He kept on at Brexit. But he did not do enough to finish the PM off. She always gets the last say and as long as the Labour fails to deal with his party’s anti-Semitism problem – and it is a problem – the prime minister always has the chance to get one, last, painful jab in.

She finished with: “Let me tell the right honourable gentleman what I have been doing over the past week and let me also look at what the right honourable gentleman was doing over the last week.

“While I was agreeing the future of Nato with President Trump he was joining a protest march against him, while I was delivering a plan for our future trade with the EU, he was delivering a plan to teach our children how to go on strike, and while I was negotiating our future security relationship with Europe, he was renegotiating the definition of anti-Semitism. He protests, I deliver.”

May 1 Corbyn 1

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