One could be forgiven for thinking the summer recess never happened. Two months since the last PMQs, the Conservatives are still riven over Brexit and Labour is still arguing over anti-Semitism.
Both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May sought to exploit their opponent’s divisions – but it was Corbyn who thrived. After the Labour leader challenged May to rule out a no-deal Brexit (which is the government’s true stance), the Prime Minister resorted to replying that it “would not be the end of the world” (a quote from the head of the World Trade Organisation). Well, perhaps, but that’s quite a low bar.
To the delight of watching Labour aides, Corbyn provoked laughter as he quipped of May: “She can’t keep dancing round all the issues”. Panasonic, he added, had already “danced off” (the firm is moving its HQ from the UK to Amsterdam after fears that Britain could be deemed a tax haven by Japan if it again cuts corporation tax).
Rather than making a strong case for the defunct Chequers plan, May sought to use attack as the best form of defence, demanding that Corbyn apologise for his 2013 remarks on Zionists not understanding “English irony”, and challenging him to rule out a second Brexit referendum. But the Labour did neither – it is, after all, Prime Minister’s Questions.
In an inversion of May’s mantra, Corbyn warned that “no deal was a bad deal” (which the PM knows but cannot say) and mocked her silence after he asked her to name the “countervailing opportunities” identified by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.
The Labour leader’s most politically notable line was his warning that “a majority of people voted to leave but they expected the negotiations be handled competently”.Remainers would be unwise to assume that Corbyn will eventually back a “people’s vote”. But should the Labour leader wish to do so, he provided ample grounds today.