PMQs: Corbyn forces May to defend Grayling’s mistakes

Jeremy Corbyn’s rather scattergun questioning style has been criticised by some in the past but today he zeroed in repeatedly on what he sees as a Tory weak point – Seaborne Freight, the shipping company with no ships.

While he said the government have claimed that there will be no cost to the taxpayer, Corbyn pointed out that money was given to external consultants to assess the bid. She replied that those consultants were conducting due diligence.

Corbyn continued  that the contract was considered “high risk”, criticised the limitations placed on those doing due diligence and pointed out that EuroTunnel had called the contract “secretive”. He then widened his attack on Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – criticising the Gatwick drone debacle, Carillion contracts, rail timetables and high train fares.

In normal times, Grayling may have been pushed to resign weeks ago but May continued to stand by her man today. One particularly weak excuse she gave was that the contract is an example of the Tories supporting start-ups.

The whole Seaborne debacle is a gift to Labour, a rare government competency cock-up which is easily understandable to the average person. Everyone knows you don’t give shipping contracts to someone with no ships.

May did get one effective counter-attack in though, accusing Corbyn of playing politics and not being the conviction politician many thought he was – a criticism which will strike a chord with ‘peoples’ vote’ supporters. Although how many of them there are and whether they’ll actually abandon Labour at the next election is another question.

Parliament is in rebellious mood at the moment and May got some difficult questions from her own side. After her tour of food banks with Frank Field, Heidi Allen said Universal Credit was still pushing people to food banks and called for the five-week wait and the benefit freeze to go. Amber Rudd has only just admitted that there has been a link between Universal Credit and food banks. She hasn’t admitted there still is a link.

Tory MP Richard Graham also criticised the benefits system. A constituent of his receives employment and support allowance (ESA) and has just been awarded £20,000 after a recent court ruling on under-payments. He has to spend a lot of this within a year to avoid having too many assets to be eligible for ESA. May said the DWP were looking into it.

Later, Ben Bradley revealed a part of the Tory psyche that May has tried to keep hidden when he asked if she would “look carefully at opportunities to shrink the size of government”. May could have repeated her phrase “austerity is over”. Instead she just said that, as Bradley believes in Brexit, he should welcome her creation of a Brexit department.

Tory MP Gareth Johnson also asked an old-school Tory question, implying that, because stabbings have risen while stop and searches have fallen, the two things must be linked. To which, I direct him to this list of times correlation was not causation.

Finally, May is still insisting that Brexit will happen in March (whatever Olly Robbins might say in a bar), the SNP’s Ian Blackford is still being loudly and rudely jeered every time he talks and May says that importing medicines will be the priority in the event of a no-deal.

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