A lot has happened in the run-up to this session of Prime Minister’s Questions, which is the last that the UK will hold as a member of the EU. But after the unveiling of a 181-page plan by the US President for the Middle East yesterday, you might be forgiven for having expected this week’s exchange to have been dominated by that issue. Pursuing peace in Israel-Palestine has been a key focus of Jeremy Corbyn’s throughout his career. But the Labour leader took a broader approach today, also attacking the government’s record on the climate emergency, in light of the upcoming United Nations climate change conference, and UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Should we be financing billions of pounds on oil and gas projects all around the world? Should we be happy that the UK is on track to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2099? Citing flooding in the midlands and bush fires in Australia, Corbyn asked Boris Johnson whether we could afford to wait another 79 years to reach the vital target. The Prime Minister replied that the government had reduced CO2 emissions by 49% since the 1990s and that the economy has grown by 73% under a Conservative government: “That is our record. We can do both,” he declared.
This is indicative of the government’s whole approach – by focusing on CO2 only, the PM carefully sidesteps the whole host of areas in which the government is missing its targets. The UK is failing on three of the five EU targets on pollutant emissions; legally binding limits on water pollutants for 2021; 2020 objectives set in 2010 to protect species; the government’s own target to plant 5,000 trees last year; and the EU target to recycle or reuse 50% of household waste by 2020. What’s more, his claim on CO2 is based only on the UK’s ‘territorial emissions’ – if you calculate it as carbon consumption, including what the UK imports, it drops to a 10% decrease since 1997.
Moving on, the Labour leader slammed the US Israel-Palestine plan: “President Trump’s latest Middle East peace plan is not a peace plan.” It would annex Palestinian territory, he explained, lock in Israeli colonisation and take away fundamental rights from Palestinians. It was perhaps surprising that he did not prioritise this more heavily in his questions to the Prime Minister, given his interest in the issue. But he stuck to the line that Labour has been pushing for years: “There needs to be a two-state solution with international support.” He challenged Johnson to tell the US that they are wrong, in the meeting to be held later today. The PM replied that “no peace plan is perfect, but this has the merit of a two-state solution”, before urging Corbyn to be more optimistic and “for once” engage with the talks. The Islington MP retorted that he had greatest respect for those in the Palestinian authority and, to big laughs from the Tories, said that he’s “met them many times”.
The Labour leader turned finally to attack the government’s wider record in the international community, highlighting UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and questioning what the UK is doing to ensure the countries it deals with have a good human rights record. Johnson managed to deflect, avoiding a substantive answer and instead claiming that Corbyn is supportive of the Iranian regime, would scrap the armed forces and the nuclear deterrent, and abolish NATO. Suffice to say, none of these pledges were contained in Labour’s 2019 manifesto – but we have come to expect wildly misleading statements from Boris Johnson, and cannot assume that the next leader will receive treatment of any other kind.