Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
23 October 2019

Five things we learned from this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions

No new timetable on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, no new calls for a General Election, but Johnson is trying to hard to woo the Labour rebels

By George Grylls

Proroguing parliament is coming back to bite Boris…

Trust is a precious thing. But trust is something that the Prime Minister does not have. The heavy-handed tactics employed in the first weeks of Johnson’s premiership are now looking like a strategic error.

If he is to eventually pass his Brexit deal, Johnson will have to rely on Labour rebels. It is the job of the opposition front bench to keep this number to a minimum. And a series of forensic questions on the NHS from Jeremy Corbyn highlighted some reasons not to trust the Prime Minister.

Johnson has repeatedly argued that his new deal will not put the NHS at risk of privatisation. Corbyn asked Johnson to prove this. Where was the specific clause that protected the NHS from those nasty capitalists from across the pond? Johnson avoided the question. The Labour rebels looked stony-faced.

…but writing workers’ rights into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill would make a big difference

Whilst checks in the Irish sea are not a good look for the Prime Minister, what matters to the MPs who matter – the Labour rebels – is workers’ rights.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. 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 weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

“We can match and pass into law EU standards,” insisted Johnson, promising domestic laws that reflect the very European regulations that he proposes to jettison.

But will a copy and paste job be enough? Again it is a question of trust.

“The provisions in the bill offer no real provisions at all,” said Jeremy Corbyn, exploiting the lack of guarantees.

To see the bill through, Johnson might have to give way on workers’ rights. But then this might give him another headache in the form of the ERG.

We don’t quite have a General Election yet – nor do we know when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will return

It took a while for anyone to mention the e-word. Ian Blackford’s intervention finally prompted the Prime Minister to say that he was still in favour of a General Election.

There had been some long-shot speculation that today might see an announcement. Alas not.

A meeting between Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne, Nick Brown, Mark Spencer, Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson had earlier resulted in stalemate.

In the meeting, the Labour Party reiterated its promise to allow a General Election once no-deal had been avoided. It also said that they would cooperate on a new timetable for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

But Downing Street refused to play ball. Instead there was plenty of briefing about how the capricious EU might not even offer an extension. We await what the government will say when Donald Tusk replies.

But we do know what the government’s two lines of attack will be, come the election

Delay, delay, delay. Now begins the blame game.

Weirdly given yesterday’s events, Corbyn attacked Johnson for delaying the progression of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

But Johnson took us back to the same old script by replying with the usual “Get Brexit Done” spiel.

Interestingly, a new line of attack was also added to the government’s armoury.

From now on, do not be surprised if every government minister talks about Labour as the party of “two more referenda”. Apparently, not only do the opposition want a confirmatory referendum on Brexit, but they are also keen for another vote on Scottish independence.

This line will be familiar to anyone who recalls the 2015 election, when Ed Miliband was depicted (fairly successfully) as nestled in Alex Salmond’s pocket.

And we do know where the Liberal Democrats think they can score points off Labour

The Liberal Democrats’ buoyancy in the polls relies on them continuing to be the party of remain. And today, Jo Swinson hit Labour where it hurts.

Yesterday 19 Labour MPs voted with the government for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill. Swinson wanted to remind everyone that there was no such dissent in her own party.

She asked the Prime Minister to thank the Labour rebels for supporting his deal. Johnson gave her the line that she craved.

“I do indeed express my gratitude,” he said.