PMQs review: the Budget hands Miliband an easy win

Cameron is still unable to defend much of his Chancellor's Budget.

The first PMQs since the Budget was, unsurprisingly, an easy win for Ed Miliband. David Cameron struggled to defend his decision to cut the 50p tax rate and quickly attempted to change the subject to unemployment, which fell by 35,000 (0.1 per cent) in the last quarter. But as the PM admitted later in the session, unemployment remains "far too high" - today's figures were nothing to boast about. Cameron's intervention merely gifted Miliband another opportunity to brand him as "out-of-touch". As he said, figures that show more than one million young people unemployed are no cause for celebration.

From then on, every time the Labour leader raised an unpopular measure from the calamitous Budget ["even people within Downing Street calling it an 'omnishambles,'" he quipped] - the 50p tax cut, "the granny tax", "the charity tax" - the PM turned to the subject of Ken Livingstone's tax avoidance. But while this story is disastrous for Livingstone, it has done little damage to Miliband. It did, however, highlight just how valuable Cameron believes the re-election of Boris Johnson would be for the Tories. A victory for Johnson would overshadow all of the disasters of the last month.

Perhaps the most significant moment came when Miliband branded George Osborne a "part-time" Chancellor - the first time he's used this line. "I wonder which job he's doing today, Mr Speaker?", he asked, a reference to Osborne's dual-role as Chancellor and the Tories' chief election strategist. Aware of how damaging this charge is, Cameron looked furious. If it sticks, Osborne could be permanently damaged.

Ed Miliband branded George Osborne a "part-time Chancellor". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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