PMQs: A quick catch-up

13th June, 2018 2:14 pm

Today’s Prime Minister’s Questions did not fail to deliver on drama. Here are the six key moments from the session.

1. Jeremy Corbyn’s opening question

“When she met Trump last week, did she do as the Foreign Secretary suggested and ask him to take over the Brexit negotiations?” Another strong opener from Corbyn, as he recalled comments made by Boris Johnson to a private dinner of Conservative activists, a recording of which was leaked to Buzzfeed last week.

At this first question, Theresa May pulled a face of deep anger and embarrassment, while a red-faced Johnson laughed. Extraordinary visuals.

2. Backstop – or backslide?

In response to the Labour leader’s next zinger pressing the Prime Minister over ever-shifting deadlines – “Which December are we talking about?” – she tried to clarify the current situation regarding the backstop over which David Davis threatened to resign last week.

But by this point MPs were laughing so loudly in the Commons that her explanation of the “backstop arrangement that we have agreed” was barely heard. Then Corbyn snapped: “I’m not sure if it’s a backstop or a backslide that she’s talking about here.”

3. PM tells MPs to “calm down”

For some unknown reason, May seems to think it’s a good idea to tell the Commons to “calm down” in the style of David Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ jibe. Paired with the excessive eye rolling, it just makes the PM come across as unsettled and unconfident. The same applies to her efforts at humour: her off-topic reference to members “circulating instruction manuals on how to deselect labour MPs” and her subpar Labour Live joke weren’t successful.

4. Bercow orders SNP leader to leave

When called to put his question to the Prime Minister, Ian Blackford demanded an emergency debate to address concerns that the devolution debates were rushed through last night.

In dramatic scenes, speaker John Bercow refused and – after Blackford refused to sit down – ordered the SNP leader to leave the Commons and not return for the rest of the day (meaning he will not be able to vote on the rest of the EU Withdrawal Bill amendments). Blackford left and was followed out by the rest of the SNP MPs.

5. PM reiterates position on reform of Northern Irish abortion 

As reported on LabourList this week, a cross-party group of MPs led by Stella Creasy have been urging the government to allow a free vote on abortion decriminalisation, which would apply to the whole of the UK.

Today Labour MP Jo Stevens used her question to get further clarification from the PM on her position, which she confirmed: May would prefer that the matter be dealt with by Stormont but any vote on abortion in the Commons will be a free vote.

6. May fails to clarify deal struck with Tory ‘rebels’

Arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg was on the order paper and grasped the opportunity to seek clarify on the deal May struck with Remainer Tories yesterday, which allowed her to avoid a government defeat. Rees-Mogg wanted the PM to confirm that “the job of government is different from that of parliament”, i.e. that the executive should retain control of the Brexit process rather than handing it over to MPs.

“I’m happy to be clear about this situation,” May replied, before being as clear as mud. Confirming that she and David Davis have agreed to bring forward a Lords amendment (likely a watered-down version of Dominic Grieve’s own watered-down version of the ‘meaningful vote’ amendment) and repeating the DExEU line that “the government’s hand in negotiations cannot be tied”, she then fell back on her oft-repeated declaration that her government would not “overturn the will of the British people”. That doesn’t mean much at all, though, when everyone in parliament believes their own vision for Brexit respects the referendum result.

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