Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
16 November 2016

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn is enjoying landing blows over Brexit

For the Labour leader, attacking the government is now a pleasure rather than merely a duty. 

By George Eaton

It took him a while, but Jeremy Corbyn is discovering the political benefits of Brexit. At today’s PMQs, he lambasted Theresa May over her alleged lack of a plan, albeit through a bizarre segue. The Labour leader began by asking about the fate of the Chagos Islanders but, to the incredulity of MPs, his question morphed into one on Brexit. Was Boris Johnson right, he asked, to suggest to the UK would leave the customs union? 

In resoonse, May was as inscrutable as ever, merely stating that “we are preparing carefully for the formal negotiations”. But when Corbyn demanded that she put her plan before parliament (as opposed to allowing Johnson to reveal it to Czech newspapers), she gave more away. Her plan, she declared, was “to control the movement of people from Europe” (an option Angela Merkel has again ruled out) and to “negotiate free trade agreements with the rest of world” (which implies leaving the customs union). Pressed later by the SNP’s Angus Robertson, May insisted that customs union withdrawal was not “a binary decision”.

It is such ambiguities that lead MPs to demand the government reveal its strategy to them. But May warned: “If we did that, it would be the best possible way that we got the worst result for this country. That’s why we won’t do it.” But it is a mark of her discomfort that she was happier attacking Corbyn (“We are getting on with the job, he’s not up to the job”) than she was defending her stance. 

Having long ago abandoned his “people’s questions”, the Labour leader now relishes in parliamentary knockabout. “The Foreign Secretary is whispering advice, can we all hear it?” he demanded. The days when the Labour leader failed to mention Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation (insisting that he was not his place to do so) are now a distant memory. For Corbyn, landing blows over Brexit is no longer merely a duty but a pleasure. “The government is making a shambles … and nobody understands what the strategy is,” he concluded. 

Of note today was that neither May nor Corbyn, perhaps unsurprisingly, welcomed the election of Donald Trump. By contrast, in November 2008, both Gordon Brown and David Cameron hailed Barack Obama’s victory. Trump was eventually mentioned in an appropriately surreal context. Tory MP Richard Bacon asked May for a message of reassurance for “fat, middle-aged, white man” who feel “left behind”. With the innuendo of which she is often fond, May replied: “Perhaps he would like to come up and see me sometime.” 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.