For Jeremy Corbyn, attacking the Conservatives over Brexit is now not just a duty but a pleasure. At today’s PMQs, he deftly exposed Theresa May’s political paralysis.
Corbyn twice asked the Prime Minister when the long-promised Brexit white paper would be published and she twice refused to answer (the absent David Davis is similarly exercised by the delay). Just four months before the negotiations are due to conclude, May has yet to explain how the UK will leave the customs union while simultaneously avoiding a hard Irish border (hint: it can’t).
The high point of the session came when Corbyn compared the Tories’ time management to that of Britain’s railways. The government, he said, had “delivered more delays and cancellations than Northern Rail”. Which, Corbyn continued, would last longer: the seemingly doomed franchise or her premiership?
May sought to deploy attack as the best form of defence, challenging the Labour leader to rule out a second Brexit referendum. The Tories believe their best hope is to charge the opposition with disregarding the people’s will. But, as opposition leaders always should, Corbyn simply noted: “The last time I looked at the order paper it said Prime Minister’s Question Time”. May’s pedantic insistence that she had not asked a question did her little good.
Corbyn’s refusal to rule out a second referendum is notable: Labour is pragmatically keeping all options open. But though its balancing act may yet unravel, Brexit remains a far greater problem for those who are charged with delivering it: the Conservatives.
The most notable backbench intervention came from Justine Greening, the education secretary sacked by May, and the Tories’ expected London mayoral candidate. Greening denounced the promised third Heathrow runway as “the worst kind of nationalisation”, warning that the taxpayer bore all the risk.
Though May insisted that the project would be entirely funded by the private sector, the charge that the government is privatising the profits and nationalising the losses (through implicit state subsidies) will endure. And Greening, who has largely maintained a loyal tone, has signalled that she is not afraid to confront her political assassin.