This afternoon’s PMQs was bound to be an odd one: it came before a meeting between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in which they are supposed to work together constructively to break the Brexit deadlock in parliament. Could the Prime Minister keep up the personal attacks after appearing to hand over control of Brexit to the leader of the opposition, who she has previously portrayed as a dangerous Marxist?
Kicking off with an acknowledgement that the Brexit talks were imminent, Corbyn welcomed May’s “willingness to compromise to resolve the Brexit deadlock”. But he swiftly moved on to domestic issues, taking up the government on its record of rising cross-generational poverty, the disastrous roll-out of Universal Credit, food bank usage up, unhappy WASPI women and even free TV licences . It may have seemed like small fry amid the Brexit chaos, but the Labour leader intends to campaign hard on these issues at the next election. And questions over customs union membership, dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, etc, were best kept for the afternoon head-to-head.
Although she started with a careful tone, May didn’t hold back from attacking Labour while defending Tory policies during the rest of PMQs. She knew what was coming: a barrage of difficult questions from Tory backbenchers, wondering why the Labour leader was being empowered on Brexit when the governing party had called him ‘unfit to govern’ for so long. Similarly, Corbyn powerfully defended New Labour’s record on domestic issues – he knows that enabling a soft Brexit will infuriate those backbenchers who are inclined to praise the Blair era and urging the leadership to push for another referendum.