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22 May 2019

Three things we learnt from PMQs today

Tory divisions over legacy prosecutions in Northern Ireland took centre stage. 

By Eleni Courea

At PMQs this week, Theresa May faced a grilling about her decision not to extend legal protections against prosecution to Northern Irish veterans, and questions on funding for schools from Jeremy Corbyn. Here’s what we learnt from the session.

May’s cabinet is not a happy place

Not only were the Conservative benches half empty as per usual, but most of May’s Brexit-supporting ministers didn’t show up for the session.

Andrea Leadsom, Chris Grayling, Liam Fox and Liz Truss – prominent members of the so-called Pizza Club of senior Brexiteers – were missing. Penny Mordaunt was the only Brexiteer on the front bench when the session began; Sajid Javid arrived late.

It’s a sign of the disquiet at the prime minister’s attempt to sweeten her Brexit offer for Labour MPs. Yesterday she said she would allow MPs to vote on whether they wanted a second referendum if they backed her deal. She now faces increasing pressure to step down from her own cabinet, lots of whose members are jostling to become the next prime minister. 

May faces the fire on Northern Irish veterans

Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson and Mark Francois, three Tories who would normally be lambasting May’s Brexit deal, instead asked why she was not applying the policy of stronger legal protections against prosecution for historic offences to soldiers and veterans in Northern Ireland.

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Francois read out letter from a veteran who is now being investigated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland; Duncan Smith asked how he could reassure colleagues he served beside “that this government has not abandoned them”.

May did not give a direct justification of the policy but insisted that she wants “a fair and just system that is working across the board to deal with these legacy issues”. Her decision has incensed the DUP and lots of Tories who are already hostile to the prime minister – and that is the last thing she needs. It’s opened up another major fissure within her party on an issue that could end up delivering the final nail in the coffin of her premiership.

Misleading stats still abound on school funding

In response to Jeremy Corbyn’s line of questioning on school funding, Theresa May said repeatedly that her government is spending more money on schools than ever before and that per pupil funding has gone up. But the figures don’t factor in inflation or rising student numbers. In reality funding for schools has fallen in real terms.

Full Fact tweeted that it is forced to point this out “almost every week”. The figures have been subject to heated argument for months. Late in 2018, the UK Statistics Authority’s chair Sir David Norgrove issued a strongly-worded letter where he said he had “serious concerns” about the Department of Educations’ use of statistics. The government has ignored this. It shows how free governments are to make misleading claims about their policies without facing repercussions.