PMQs Sketch: May, they're behind you!

It's not Labour who are furious at May, it's those in her own party.

There is nothing like a good execution to get them going in the House of Commons but today, sadly, there was indeed nothing like it.

On the surface the plan was simply to further the destabilisation of the Government with fresh attacks on Home Secretary Theresa May over her summer-time immigration policy, which critics say involved stamping the word "enter" on the forehead of anyone who turned up.

Indeed following accusations that she had been economical with the truth at an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee, the tumbril, so recently used to cart off Liam Fox, had been oiled and greased for another outing. Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz had slipped easily into undertaker tones as he toured the studios looking for victims and issuing the tricoteuse with new needles.

So it should have been with some trepidation that Theresa May entered the Commons chamber for Prime Ministers Questions. But 18 months in a post which has spelled the end of many a political career must have toughened her up for she entered under full sail, white top crackling, to face her accusers. But just in case she wavered Dave had sandwiched her between William Hague and George Osborne to stop any attempt to make a run for it.

Outside in the real world Ladbrokes had cut her price on being the next to exit the cabinet from 16/1 to 7/1 and she must have known half her colleagues, furious at anybody with a foreign accent being allowed into Britain, would have already been down the bookies. With lunch beckoning there was a fair amount of drooling going on at the thought of a slice of well-cooked Home Secretary as a starter.

Dave had let it be known that he had "full confidence" in Theresa May thereby leaving her open to instant dismissal if necessary, although the departure of two cabinet ministers within a month might be judged somewhat careless on his side. He also has this problem with women voters who seem to see more of the smarm than he would like, so losing Theresa would not be advantageous here either. Final confirmation, if it were needed, that the Government was once again up to its eyeballs in it came from the loud hoots of support from those behind her, happy at the thought there may soon be a vacancy.

Then up stood Ed Miliband and it all went a bit pear shaped. Immigration has always been dodgy ground to say the least for the Labour Party and it was clear from the outset that Dave was going to remind him of this. Ed had clearly spent hours with his advisors working out what to say and how to say it but whoever plays the Dave part needs replacing.

He had obviously decided to avoid concentrating on the claims by Borders Boss Brodie Clark that Theresa May might be telling porkies about whathad gone on although this was the only game in town. Instead he tried to skewer him on numbers getting in rather than the complaints from staff that cuts meant they could not do the job. As Ed accused Dave of dodging responsibility, being shambolic and out of touch, Tory cheers grew as they realised their man was getting away with it again and lunch was only minutes away.

Labour raised their volume in defence leaving Speaker Bercow to charge both sides with "shouting their heads off ". And that is what Ed seemed to be doing as his session with the PM drew to a close. Dave is an easy target at the weekly confrontation as all Labour has to do is wind him up and let him go. But Ed gives the impression of someone who learns his lines and is not too good on going with the flow. Labour may be 5% ahead of the Tories in the polls but bearing mind the state of the economy should be expecting more. Ed's own popularity out in the country, not to mention among his own MPs, could do with a lot of improvement.

It was left to Dave to round off his session with a reminder that Labour guru and Miliband backer Lord Glasman had said Labour had "lied" about immigration. Theresa May relaxed. Outside students protested and the eurozone continued to collapse. Next week MPs are on holiday.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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