Welsh questions, Brexit and 'pre-election tension'

Paul Flynn MP
Image caption 'You and I are familiar with the syndrome of pre-election tension that afflicts this place' - Paul Flynn MP.

It was a final chance for MPs to rehearse their campaign slogans.

Never knowingly off message, Alun Cairns threw a couple of random references to "strong and stable leadership" during the first five minutes of Welsh questions, the last one before the general election.

He also praised "two Welsh stars", one of whom finished more than an hour ahead of the secretary of state in the London Marathon. "Josh Griffiths of the Swansea Harriers was the first Briton to cross the finishing line at the London marathon at the weekend. In particular, I want to pay tribute to Matthew Rees, who helped a fellow runner during the closing stages of the marathon."

'Brexit'

But Welsh questions was more like Brexit question time as opposition MPs queued up to highlight the risks for Welsh farmers and industry of Wales leaving the European Union.

Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards asked: "Why doesn't he come clean today and admit that it is the intention of the Tories to sell Welsh producers down the river in order to open up markets for the bankers of London?"

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Williams added: "Is it not obvious that 40% tariffs would destroy Welsh agriculture?"

And shadow Wales Office Minister Gerald Jones accused the government of being prepared "to play fast and loose with the Welsh economy, with an extreme Tory vision of Brexit that would put Welsh jobs and livelihoods at risk".

Alun Cairns said he didn't recognise the premise of the question. "We want the freest, most open trading agreement, and it seems to me that the real investors, who are creating real jobs, are taking us towards our ambition."

'Purdah'

His Labour shadow Christina Rees wanted to know about progress on projects in the last Conservative manifesto. "Is there any chance of progress on the electrification of the Great Western Railway to Swansea, the north Wales growth plan and the HS2 hub in Crewe before purdah kicks in?"

Wales Office Minister Guto Bebb sidestepped the rail electrification question but said there had been a meeting on the HS2 hub on Tuesday.

Purdah actually began on April 22 but with an election imminent, a commitment to electrification - and the Swansea tidal lagoon, which also featured - are legitimate questions for all parties hoping to form a government next month.

Welsh questions was followed by prime minister's questions, with campaign slogans embraced so keenly by Conservative MPs they made Alun Cairns look potentially lukewarm in his endorsement of Theresa May.

'Tension'

Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn was so concerned he raised a point of order with Speaker John Bercow, telling him: "You and I are familiar with the syndrome of pre-election tension that afflicts this place. You are concerned for the wellbeing of Members....but I believe that what we have seen today is a sudden outbreak of parliamentary Tourette's.

"The rumour is that something known as a "Crosby chip" has been implanted in the brains of Conservative Members that compels them to say "strong and stable" every 18 seconds and "coalition of chaos" every 38 seconds. Can we inquire into whether the affliction is permanent or one that can be cured?"

Having listened to a six-minute Radio Wales interview with Theresa May, and lost count of the "strong and stable" references, I fear there may be no cure. But then politicians say that it is only when they are fed up spouting the slogans that voters are starting to hear them.

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