Corbyn Vs May Round Seventeen
Brexit once again dominated the subject of the Opposition Leader’s six questions this week and as usual, answers did not dominate the session and nothing was made clear. Jeremy Corbyn came out on top in terms of performance not only because his comebacks were reasonable, witty and true but because his concise questions regarding the alternative arrangments for the renegotiation of the withdrawal bill with the EU should have been reasonably easy to answer and would have given the public a clearer idea of what the PM is planning to do. However, Theresa May was up to her usual tricks of serial avoidance and evasion. Instead, opting to turn some questions around on to Jeremy Corbyn, using smear tactics to deflect blame for her failures onto him.
Parliament seemed a bit more subdued than usual again this week, perhaps even the Members of Parliament are becoming as bored as we are of hearing these same questions every week with the same prattling that the Prime Minister considers answers.
Perhaps one of the most depressing observations this week is that when the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn said “It is our responsibility to bring people together” He was interrupted with raucous laughter. Why is this so funny? A great leader is one that can unite his/her people. We are in a situation currently where approximately 17 million people voted to leave and approximately 16 million people voted to remain. Our country is the most divided I have ever known it to be. Someone has to stand up and find a way to unite our country but our Government can’t even unite its own party and openly laugh at the idea of bringing people together. This is no laughing matter and whilst the people are divided we lack the unity needed to hold this Government to account for its failures outside of the Brexit smokescreen.
Nothing clear comes out of these sessions apart from that we seem to have the most apathetic Government in history. Nothing seems to get done, the rules of Parliament seem to protect them from their misleading comments and we just continue to plod down a destructive path.
The Tit for Tat
“Following the vote in the House last night against no deal, the Prime Minister is again going to attempt to renegotiate the backstop on the basis of finding “alternative arrangements”. Will she tell us what those alternative arrangements might be?”
“Absolutely. Last night, the House set a clear direction on the way in which it could agree a deal, and that, as the right hon. Gentleman says, is about dealing with the issue of the backstop. As I said yesterday, there are a number of proposals for how that could be done. We are engaging positively with proposals that have been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and my hon. Friends the Members for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), for Wycombe (Mr. Baker) and for North East Somerset (Mr. Rees-Mogg). Others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady), have put forward different proposals, such as a unilateral exit mechanism—”
“Where are they?”
“I am just telling the shadow Foreign Secretary if she will listen—let me give her a piece of advice: if she wants to shout things, it might be better to shout them in response to what I am saying.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have put forward proposals such as a unilateral exit mechanism or a time limit to the backstop. The political declaration already refers to alternative arrangements and raises a number of proposals that can be addressed, such as mutual recognition of trusted trader schemes.”
“None of that was very clear to me; I do not know about anybody else. It would have been really nice if the Prime Minister had acknowledged that she did whip her MPs to try to support no deal, and she was defeated on that.
The EU said at the weekend that it was willing to renegotiate if the Government’s red lines could change. Will the Prime Minister now tell us which of her red lines are going to change?”
“What has been absolutely clear in my contacts with European Union leaders is that they want a deal. What the House voted for last night was to leave the European Union with a deal, but it also crucially showed what it will take to see support in the House for a deal in the future. I think that the plan that was set out last night shows that we can obtain a substantial and sustainable majority in the House.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about not being clear about positions on various things. I am very pleased that he is now going to meet me, because there are a number of issues that I want to discuss with him. For example, he talks about a strong single market relationship with the European Union in the future. I want to know whether that means that he wants to accept all EU state aid rules, because he has objected to them in the past, and he cannot have it both ways.
We need to know, with greater clarity, what it is that the right hon. Gentleman believes in. Perhaps next time one of his own Back Benchers wants to ask him about his position on a second referendum, he will actually take a question or an intervention.”
“Last time I looked at the Order Paper, it said “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. The Prime Minister has herself said that “the only possible deal” is within her red lines, so it is perfectly reasonable to ask which of her red lines has changed.
This morning, the Brexit Secretary was asked:
“What is the alternative to the backstop?”
“Well, that is what we’re exploring.”
Can the Prime Minister tell us which options are being explored?”
“I covered that in the answer to one of the right hon. Gentleman’s earlier questions. Perhaps if he listened to the answers to his questions, he would not have to repeat them.”
(Maybe if Theresa May actually answered the questions, we wouldn’t have to keep hearing the same questions over and over again.)
“I look forward to meeting the Prime Minister later today, because I want to put forward Labour’s alternatives, which could command a majority in the House and which are about protecting jobs and people’s living standards across the country.
This morning, the Brexit Secretary said that alternative arrangements meant looking at technology. That is a very interesting question. Will the Prime Minister make clear what technological advances she is expecting to be made in the next 58 days?”
“May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be helpful—”
“Order. I want to hear about these matters.”
“I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I have pointed out that there are a number of options that people are putting forward that we are working positively with them on. I have already referenced a number of things that are in the political declaration on alternative arrangements that do set out various aspects that could be looked at; I referenced one of them in my answer to his earlier question.
But I would also say to the right hon. Gentleman that last night the House did vote to reject no deal, but it also voted to do what the European Union has consistently asked this House to do since it rejected the withdrawal agreement, which was to say what the UK wanted to see changed. Last night, a majority in this House voted to maintain the commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, to leave the European Union with a deal and to set out to the European Union what it will take to ensure that this House can support a deal. That is a change to the backstop; that is what I will be taking back to the European Union. That is what we will be doing to ensure that we can avoid no deal. The right hon. Gentleman stands up regularly and says he does not want no deal; I am working to ensure we get a deal. He has opposed every move by this Government to get a deal; he is the one who is risking no deal.”
“I would be grateful if the Prime Minister actually acknowledged that the House has voted to take no deal off the table. Can she assure the House that if she is unable to secure any legal changes to the backstop, she will work to find a solution based on a comprehensive customs union, a strong single market deal and the guaranteeing of rights and protections, rather than go back to the alternative that she has been threatening everybody with for months and months, which was to crash out without any deal whatsoever?”
“Last night, the House did vote to reject no deal, but that cannot be the end of the story.”
“Of course not.”
“The right hon. Gentleman says “Of course not.” I think that is the first time he has actually accepted that you cannot just vote to reject no deal; you have to vote for a deal, otherwise, you leave with no deal. So far, he has opposed everything this Government have put forward in relation to a deal, and he said previously he will reject any deal that the Government put on the table. He says this is Prime Minister’s questions, but people want to know his position as well. Will he ensure that if this Government come back with a revised deal that ensures we do not leave with no deal, he will actually support it?”
“It really is time that the Prime Minister acknowledges that she has got to move on from the red lines she has put down in the first place, and she does not acknowledge that in answer to my questions or indeed anybody else’s.
Our responsibility is to bring people together, whether they voted—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, we are the Houses of Parliament; we are the House of Commons; we do represent the entire country; and the point I am making is that we should bring people together, whether they voted to leave or remain. Indeed, I look forward to meeting the Prime Minister to discuss a solution that could in my view unite the country. Changes to the backstop alone will not be sufficient. Businesses and trade unions are very clear that any solution must involve a customs union and the strongest possible deal with the single market to avoid the damage of no deal. The Prime Minister may have possibly temporarily united her party, but is she willing—”
“Order. Mr Ellis, you were at one time a barrister of one rank or another in the courts; there is no way that you would have been allowed to shout from a sedentary position in that way. The judge would have ruled you out of order; I do not know whether that is why you stopped practising law and came into Parliament. Behave yourself a young man; you can do so much better when you try.”
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted—[Interruption]—the Prime Minister may have succeeded in temporarily uniting her very divided party, but is she willing to make the necessary compromises, which are more important, to unite the country going forward to secure jobs and living standards right across the UK?”
“The right hon. Gentleman is a fine one to talk about coming together when it was only last night that he agreed to actually meet me to talk about these issues. Time and again, he has told me to listen to the views of the House. He has just stood up and said that the backstop is not the only issue in the withdrawal agreement, but last night the House voted by a majority to say that the issue that needed to be addressed was the backstop, so he needs to listen to the House and to recognise that. He put forward a proposal last night that referenced the customs union and the single market, but his proposal was rejected by this House. I will tell him what this Government has been doing. Over the past week, we have been getting more teachers into schools, we have been ensuring that we are giving more money to councils and we have won a majority on Brexit. What did he manage? His Brexit plan was voted down, he opposed ending free movement and he will not rule out a second referendum. He has no plan for Brexit, no good plan for our economy and no plan for our country.”