One of the mysteries of Theresa May is that while she is happy to trade freely in misleading statements – the repeated claim that “everyone said we couldn’t negotiate a deal with the EU”, the use of the phrase “implementation period” to refer to the transition period, her famous line that someone could not be deported from the United Kingdom because he had a cat, and so on – there is one lie she won’t tell: she won’t say that Britain is better off having voted to Leave.
Jeremy Corbyn used the bulk of his questions to unsettle her through a series of variations on that particular theme, with recent unhelpfully candid remarks from Jeremy Hunt – who said that the deal mitigated “most” of the worst aspects of Brexit – and Philip Hammond’s admission that we will be economically worse off as a result of leaving the European Union. May was embarrassed but managed to avoid trouble by moving onto other topics, and Corbyn’s inability to think on his feet meant that he, as usual, eschewed follow-up questions.
That meant that although he had far the better of the exchanges, he was never able to push on when her answers showed real uncertainty and vulnerability – on the Hunt point, he might perhaps have been better off repeating the question – May would never have answered it, but her unwillingness to say that Brexit is the right move unnerves pro-Brexit Conservative MPs and would deepen her difficulties as far as passing the Brexit deal goes.
Still, even without follow-up questions, Corbyn won comfortably, while May can at least breathe a sigh of relief that her political troubles are no worse at the end of PMQs than they were at the beginning.