There were cheers from Tory MPs as Jeremy Corbyn came to the close of his first-ever response to a prime ministerial statement (in reference to its length). But the Labour leader, looking smarter than usual after a mini makeover, used his time wisely.
On the EU, the subject of the statement, he challenged Cameron to rule out withdrawing from or “diluting” the social chapter and the working time directive. Though it is likely that the government will avoid pushing for any significant changes, the PM declined to do so, avoiding any reference to the issue. Unless or until he does, it will be harder for pro-Europeans to persuade those on the left flirting with Brexit to support the in campaign.
Corbyn also used his response to demand that Cameron raise the issue of “the dumping of subsidised Chinese steel” when he meets Chinese president Xi Jinping this week (Corbyn has own meeting tomorrow). Shortly before the statement, the news broke that Caparo Industries was likely to go into administration, risking the loss of 1,700 jobs. The PM replied by promising, for the first time, to discuss the subject with Xi. “Of course we will raise all of these issues – that is what our relationship with China is all about,” he said. “It is at such a high level there is no subject off the table and all of these issues, including the steel industry, of course will be discussed.”
Earlier in his reply, Corbyn referenced the Bishops’ demand that the UK take 50,000 Syrian refugees, rather than 20,000, and appealed to Cameron’s self-interest by suggesting that it “may create the goodwill in Europe to make headway in his other forthcoming negotiations”. But the PM replied that while “no one has greater respect for the Bishops than me”, they were wrong on this subject. “The right thing to do is to take 20,000 refugees from the camps and if you become part of the mechanism of distributing people around the European Union you’re encouraging people to make that dangerous journey.”