Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
12 July 2017updated 01 Aug 2021 8:56am

PMQs review: Emily Thornberry skewers the Tories on Brexit and their divisions

The shadow foreign secretary hammered the government on the prospect of “no deal”.

By Anoosh Chakelian

It was the clash of the understudies at today’s PMQs, due to the Prime Minister being busy with the King of Spain’s state visit. Standing in for Theresa May was Damian Green, the new First Secretary of State and a close ally of the PM – facing shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who took Jeremy Corbyn’s place.

But only the latter enjoyed her time in the spotlight. She doggedly held the government to account on the Prime Minister’s irresponsible suggestion that “no deal” in the Brexit negotiations would be better than a bad deal. And despite Green’s squirming (he randomly mentioned unemployment figures at one point, as a last-ditch attempt at distraction), she did not stray from her line of questioning – bringing in the cabinet’s public divisions on the subject, to boot.

“What will happen to the Irish land border if no deal is reached?” was her opening line, followed by a string of equally tough questions about what no deal would look like in practice, if there’s a contingency plan for it, whether it would mean no transitional arrangement – and: “Is it still the government’s clear policy that no deal is an option?”

This last question is crucial, as the Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Brexit Secretary all have different lines on the subject – a trap May set for herself by conjuring up the prospect of accepting “no deal” in the first place.

And Thornberry got her answer: Green, looking rather ashen-faced, said it was “conceivable” that walking away without an agreement would be better for Britain than a “punishment deal”. The disastrous financial implications of this will worry pro-Europeans and Brexiteers alike.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. 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.
THANK YOU

This is a key win for Labour. Usually PMQs is a show of evasion and unanswered questions – but Thornberry extracted a clear answer on the government’s Brexit stance. It’s not that the PM and her ministers are being vague about negotiations, as they are often accused of; it’s that they’re being terrifyingly specific about what they are willing to sacrifice for the sake of politics.

Other Tory weaknesses were exposed by Thornberry. She played on May’s weak position by suggesting other frontbenchers might want to “audition” for the role at PMQs, and quoted clashing lines on Brexit from various government figures – suggesting that ministers are “just making it up as they go along”.

Content from our partners
What are the green skills of the future?
A global hub for content producers, gaming and entertainment companies in Abu Dhabi
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets

Her questions also highlighted how desperate the Prime Minister’s call for collaboration with other parties was this week.

“You’re supposed to be building political consensus, man!” she cried, the moment Green contradicted her. Even the First Secretary himself began mocking the idea. “Let me try even harder to establish consensus with the honourable lady,” he said, through gritted teeth.

But the only consensus here was that Thornberry the understudy aced her starring role. Exit stage left.