Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
12 October 2016

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn starts to pin Theresa May down on Brexit

The Labour leader's warning of a "shambolic Tory Brexit" showed he has identified his target. 

By George Eaton

What does Brexit mean? In past weeks, Labour MPs have chided the eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn for rarely raising this question. But at today’s PMQs, he delivered some of the lines they have craved.  

After the referendum, Corbyn warned, “the trade deficit is widening, growth forecasts being downgraded, the value of the pound down 16 per cent … Is the PM really willing to risk a shambolic Tory Brexit just to appease the people behind her?” The reference to a “shambolic Tory Brexit” was cannier than “hard Brexit” (which merely makes Theresa May sound tough).

Corbyn went on to quote Ken Clarke’s lament that “the pound keeps zooming south” because “absolutely nobody has the faintest idea what exactly we’re going to put in place” (the Labour leader now prefers to cite Tory rebels to members of the public).

May replied that she was “optimistic” (which won’t assure many) and sought to frame Labour as undemocratic. “The shadow foreign secretary is shouting from a sedentary position, the shadow foreign secretary wants a second vote. I have to say to her, I would have thought Labour MPs would have learnt this lesson. You can ask the question again, you still get the answer you don’t want!”

The line played well in the Commons. But since Labour is not advocating a second referendum (as Thornberry swiftly tweeted) it is not one she can regularly deploy. But Corbyn’s attack was marred by his demand for May to promise single market “access”. Few doubt that the UK will have that. It is membership of the zone which May has all but ruled out (and which Labour has similarly refused to endorse). Today, she spoke of “operating within and trading with the European market”, a formulation that shed little light.

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. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. 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.

The referendum was recent enough for May to insist that she will simply deliver the people’s will. But the grimmer the economic news becomes, the harder it will be for her to dismiss those less “optimistic” than her. Today, Corbyn showed that he has identified his target. 

Content from our partners
How automation can help telecoms companies unlock their growth potential
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better
Feel confident gifting tech to your children this Christmas