Is Labour the party of business nowadays? Many high up in finance would chuckle at that question – but it truly looked that way at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, when Jeremy Corbyn used UK business leaders’ Brexit fears to put pressure on Theresa May.
Dedicating his six questions to No 10’s lack of progress on the Brexit deal, Corbyn attacked May by amplifying the concerns of her own Tory opponents: the lack of time limit on the Irish border question backstop, asking whether the Chequers plan hated by her party is “dead” (the “answer is no”, apparently), and highlighting that even with a no-deal the UK would be paying its divorce settlement.
But the Labour leader’s mention of British businesses shone through the most. Focusing on the car industry, he cited Vauxhall and Jaguar Land Rover’s warnings about the consequences of a hard Brexit. He referred to the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca too, which has recently halted its UK investments due to Brexit uncertainty.
This was impossible for May to answer, who has long been unable to reassure businesses. Her reply to one of Corbyn’s questions that government departments are “working to ensure plans are in place” for a no-deal scenario will hardly help matters.
She also knows her own ministers and MPs have publicly attacked businesses for condemning the consequences of no deal. Last month, hard Brexiteer Tory MP Bernard Jenkin accused the boss of Jaguar Land Rover live on-air of “making up” the prospect of factory closures, and the Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab slammed John Lewis for “blaming” Brexit for its “own situation”.
Westminster wisdom has long had the Tories down as the “party of business” and as monopolising “economic credibility” – but this bout of PMQs gave Corbyn the credibility when declaring “this government too weak, and too divided to protect… our economy”.