Prime Minister’s Questions: The key bits and the verdict


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Theresa May went head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons. Here’s what happened.

Will the UK be worse off under the prime minister’s Brexit plans or not? That was the question Jeremy Corbyn wanted answering at this session, after the Treasury published an analysis suggesting the UK would be less well off under all Brexit options when compared with staying in the EU.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had said Mrs May’s deal would mitigate “most” of the negative impacts of Brexit, said the Labour leader. Which of the negative impacts would not be mitigated?

Mrs May said her deal was the best available to protect the economy and “honour” the EU referendum result. The “biggest risk” to the economy was a Labour government, she added.

“It is not hard to be the best deal if it is the only deal,” observed the Labour leader, “by definition it is also the worst”.

In fact, he went on, there was no deal “just a 26-page wish list”.

Referring to Philip Hammond saying the UK would be “slightly worse off” under the prime minister’s deal, Mr Corbyn noted the chancellor’s absence from the front bench and asked if Mrs May agreed with his remarks.

Mrs May said: “The analysis shows the deal we have negotiated is the best deal for the economy and delivers on the results of the referendum.

“He calls the political declaration a wish list, but this is an ambitious, broad and flexible partnership,” she added.

“The Labour Party has six bullet points to offer. My shopping list is longer than that.”

The Labour leader quoted a damning UN report, which had said it was “clear” the impact of Brexit on people in poverty was an “after-thought”.

If the PM’s deal was so great, he asked, why were MPs “not queuing up” to back it?

Farmers in Wales, fishermen in Scotland and employers in Northern Ireland were backing it, claimed the prime minister.

She defended the government’s economic record, saying figures today showed the number of children living in workless households was “at a record low”.

Mr Corbyn quoted the UN report again, which said there 14 million people living in poverty in the UK. He then quoted business leaders, who had said her Brexit deal was the “worst of all worlds”.

She had gone from “guaranteeing frictionless trade, to offering friction and less trade”, said the Labour leader, and the country had “no faith” in the next stage of talks being completed within two years.

Did the PM prefer “extending the transition with further vast payments to the European Union or falling into the backstop with no exit”, asked Mr Corbyn.

There is an exit “from the backstop”, said Mrs May, and it was “perfectly possible” to turn the 26-page political declaration into legal text within two years.

Then it was on to the attorney general’s legal advice on the withdrawal agreement, which Labour wants published in full.

Mrs May had petitioned Tony Blair for the full legal advice on the Iraq war to be published, said Mr Corbyn, what has changed?

Mrs May cited client confidentiality and said MPs would get to see a “full reasoned position statement” on the legal position and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox would make a statement and answer MPs questions.

Mr Corbyn said the government was the most shambolic “in living memory” and 20 of her own ministers had resigned.

It was “clear that Parliament will not back this plan”, he told the PM and it was time for her to “accept that reality, make way for an alternative plan that can work for the whole country”.

Mrs May said she “will take no lectures” from someone who has had more than “100 resignations” from his frontbench.

She said “what really lies behind Labour’s approach” was a desire to “cause chaos, frustrate Brexit and overturn the will of the British people… that would be a betrayal of the many by the few”.

What else came up?

The SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford also made hay with Philip Hammond’s comments on the economic impact of Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

Labour’s Louise Ellmann called for another EU referendum.

The Verdict

Here is BBC Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D’Arcy’s take on the session:

After the PM endured another 45 minutes at the dispatch box, dodging the Brexit crossfire from the opposition and her own party’s various factions, what have we learned?

Theresa May stuck by her line that the government would not release the full text of its legal advice on the Brexit deal – no surprise, really, and it would have been a bit of a surrender and a dangerous precedent, had she agreed.

Instead she said the government’s top lawyer, the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, could make a statement to MPs, and answer questions.

Did the answer to Labour’s Dame Louise Ellman signal some subtle softening on the issue of a second referendum?

The PM has rebuffed endless requests for a so-called “People’s Vote” over the last few weeks, usually observing that there has already been a referendum, and often adding that the main parties at the last election promised to respect the result.

This time the prime minister did say that it was important to deliver on the decision of the people, but also added that there would not be time to hold a further referendum before Brexit Day – 29 March – as the Article 50 period (the period before the UK left, having given notice of intent to withdraw) would have to be extended.

Random variation of phrase, or a soft signal of some kind? Hmmm.

Jeremy Corbyn enjoyed himself in a target-rich environment, noting that Theresa May once demanded that Tony Blair published his advice on the legality of the Iraq War, and highlighting the opposition to her Brexit deal among her own MPs.

But the real threat to the PM was behind her, on the Conservative benches. Brexiteers Anne Marie Trevelyan, Peter Bone and David Amess all attacked aspects of the deal, and received polite rebuffs.

And the Scottish Conservative Douglas Ross raised the dangers of a fisheries deal which did not meet promises to the fishing industry.

The PM sailed through it all… this was much of a muchness with the questioning in the series of Brexit statements over the last fortnight. And perhaps the sense of déjà vu drained some of the hostility from this latest repeat performance.

Hard Brexiteers to the right of her, Remainers to the left, Labour with its cannons trained on her, and leadership rivals lurking under camouflage, the PM seems to be heading for certain defeat in the Meaningful Vote in a fortnight.

Yet on she goes.

Westminster is, frankly, a bit baffled.

Does she have some masterstroke to deploy? Has she banked the prospect of defeat and based her strategy on a second vote to get through a slightly tweaked deal – with modest concessions from Brussels already prepared and waiting?

Or is she simply hoping against hope that her opponents, internal or external, will somehow retreat at the last moment.

Is it magnificent? Is it politics?

We’ll know in a fortnight.

Remember, Theresa May will be at the dispatch box for PMQs the day after the Meaningful Vote. Maybe all will be revealed two weeks today.



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