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13 June 2012updated 07 Jun 2021 1:43pm

Two elections could be coming, and other lessons from today’s PMQs

By Patrick Maguire

Both parties know how they will fight the next general election… and one is almost certainly coming

Jeremy Corbyn, as he often does, devoted all six of his questions to the issue of a no-deal Brexit. In reply, Theresa May gave the answers we’ve come to know by heart. She chastised MPs in general, and Labour in particular, for voting against her deal three times, and stressed that there was no way the EU would allow the withdrawal agreement to be reopened. 

So far, so familiar. Both Corbyn’s line of questioning and May’s replies are a sign that, no matter who succeeds the Prime Minister, one of the biggest factors that impeded the passage of a negotiated settlement under the incumbent — an official opposition whose political interest lay in not passing anything and latterly in advocating for a second referendum — is not going to change. 

Nor is the existence of Conservative MPs opposed to no-deal, among them May and half-a-dozen or so of her allies whose days on the government frontbench are numbered. All of these roads ultimately lead to a general election in the autumn. 

May, of course, won’t be leading the Conservative campaign. But her peroration — in which she accused each individual member of the opposition frontbench of seeking to stop Brexit —offered a teaser of how her successor is likely to take the fight to Labour in the seats it hopes to win in the north and midlands.

Corbyn, meanwhile, signed off with a call for a second referendum on any deal agreed by the Commons — delivered with considerably more brio than usual. As much as some members of the PLP might complain, the leadership has clearly as good as settled on that position.

… and a snap election at Holyrood could be on the way too

SNP leader Ian Blackford used his two questions to criticise the review into devolution to be announced by May tomorrow, and more broadly the attitude of her would-be successors to Scotland and its right to self-determination. 

The current framework of devolved government, Blackford complained, was broken — and it is increasingly clear from the tone and content of his questions that the SNP believe their electorate’s patience with Westminster is too. 

In Blackford’s exchanges with May we see in microcosm the argument that some Scottish MPs believe will end with Nicola Sturgeon calling a snap Holyrood election in search of a mandate for the new referendum neither Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt say they will allow. 

Theresa May and her Cabinet aren’t going anywhere 

The Prime Minister became the second Conservative cabinet minister to stress their commitment to remaining in the Commons in as many days. 

Responding to an unrelated question from Vince Cable — who told the local press in Maidenhead that he expected to fight a by-election there soon — May, with visible enthusiasm, restated her desire to stay an MP once she leaves office. 

It isn’t the first time she has said so — but in a way, that makes her pledge all the more significant. May is very unlikely to up and leave after a couple of months, as David Cameron did. Add to that her continued opposition to no-deal — and that of Philip Hammond, who made a similar promise at the despatch box yesterday – and today’s session offered a glimpse of the parliamentary nightmare that awaits her successor.

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