UK Politics

Prime Minister's Questions: The key bits and the verdict

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn Image copyright HoC

Theresa May went head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons. Here's what happened.

A testy encounter in the final PMQs before summer recess, with Jeremy Corbyn attacking the PM's Brexit troubles and Mrs May accusing him of reading from a script he had written on Tuesday and not listening to her answers.

The Labour leader began by accusing cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Dominic Raab and Chris Grayling of being "referred to the police by the Electoral Commission, having refused to cooperate with the Electoral Commission". The three were leading figures in the Vote Leave campaign, which was found on Tuesday to have broken electoral law during the 2016 EU referendum.

He asked Mrs May if the ministers would fully cooperate with the police. Mrs May asked the Labour leader to withdraw his remarks because he had made accusations against "individual members of this House".

(In fact, the elections watchdog has referred a Vote Leave official to the police, not any of the politicians involved in the campaign).

The PM said she expected that "all those required to do so" would help the police, but Mr Corbyn really should withdraw his accusations.

Mr Corbyn, who appeared to be struggling with a sore throat, refused to withdraw the accusations, before switching to an attack on "dither and delay" in the Brexit negotiations, saying the government had "sunk into a mire of chaos and division".

He said the proposals in the government's Brexit White Paper were now "obsolete" - so when would there be a new White Paper?

But Mrs May wasn't finished with the Vote Leave issue, urging Mr Corbyn to withdraw his claim that ministers had refused to cooperate with the investigation, telling him everyone was "innocent until proven guilty".

The PM then went through the three amendments to the government's customs legislation, voted through by a narrow margin on Monday, that Mr Corbyn claimed had wrecked her Chequers agreement. She said he was wrong about that.

Mr Corbyn claimed the government's Facilitated Customs Arrangement - a "cobbled together mish mash" - was dead in the water.

The Labour leader was wrong again, said Mrs May, and the plan was being discussed with the EU.

Mr Corbyn scoffed at the idea that 27 member states would set up new bureaucracies to collect tariffs just to satisfy the warring Tory party.

Mr Corbyn read out a quote from the new Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, who had once called on the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights - in contrast to the government's current policy. He also said the Conservatives had "sunk into a mire" of infighting.

The PM said the government had been elected on a manifesto committing to the European Convention on Human Rights.

She ran through a list of things she had been doing in the past week - while she was "agreeing on the future of Nato with president Trump" - cue guffaws from the Labour benches - Mr Corbyn had been "on a protest march" against the US president.

This ended with a jibe at the row over Labour's new code of conduct on anti-Semitism and the last day of term pay-off line: "He protests, I deliver."

What else came up?

The SNP's leader at Westminster Ian Blackford went on Brexit. He claimed Mrs May had "put her narrow party interest before that of the country" as he argued the week's events had made a no-deal scenario much more likely.

Mrs May defended the Government's approach to Brexit and criticised the SNP's support for Scottish independence.

Mr Blackford argued the UK could not "crash out" of the EU without a deal and called on Mrs May to extend Article 50.

"Did the prime minister come into Parliament to have this as her legacy, will she now face up to the reality and extend Article 50?"

Mrs May replied: "No."

John Woodcock who has just quit the Labour Party to sit as an independent in protest at its handling of a complaint against him, claiming the party has been taken over by the far left, asked about rail problems.

Pro-EU Tory Anna Soubry asked the PM to back her "Cliff's law" bill, which would prevent the media naming crime suspects, in the wake of Sir Cliff Richard's court victory over the BBC.

Labour's former deputy leader, and the Mother of the House, Harriet Harman, who MPs were told had just become a grandmother, called for "proxy voting" in the Commons, after a row over "pairing" in last night's Brexit vote.

The Verdicts

Here is what the BBC's Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg said:

Here is BBC Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D'Arcy's verdict:

With more sub-plots than Game of Thrones, if not similar amounts of gore, today's PMQs had all the ingredients of a classic, but its two main players rarely hint at a BAFTA winning performance, and didn't rise to the occasion here.

Jeremy Corbyn has tended to open recent exchanges with a well-crafted jibe, and has become progressively better at following them up - but this time he was hampered by an Iain Duncan Smith style frog which took up residence in his throat, and by phrasing his questions in ways which allowed the PM to dispute his facts and accuse him of unfair allegations against her ministers.

This was an England-Panama situation and after brutal week the PM has endured, he rather needed a 6-0 result which would have sent the Tories slouching out of the Chamber muttering pensively about their leader; they didn't.

In fact the PM seemed more relaxed than usual, and while her answers remained carefully formulaic, she allowed herself to counter-attack a bit - although her pre-canned jokes seemed a bit flat.

Both Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP's Ian Blackford got their own attack lines in, but they didn't seriously discomfit her.

Perhaps the most effective attack came from the Conservative backbench Brexiteer, Andrea Jenkyns, who threw the PM's Brexit Mean Brexit line back at her with the question "at what point was it decided that Brexit means Remain."

That hurt, and provoked a rather snarling response from the PM, and the follow-ups from former Brexit Secretary David Davis and his erstwhile deputy Steve Baker made it clear that the backbench Brexiteer faction is not letting up.

The Government needs to beware of those two: "DD" proved a formidable and forensic backbench operator, forcing a couple of Labour ministers to resign, in his days in Opposition; Steve Baker was the key organiser of the backbench Brexit faction in the coalition years, acting as the key strategist and unofficial whip in the manoeuvres which cornered David Cameron into conceding a referendum on the EU in the first place.

As it turned out the real star of the show was the senior backbencher Keith Simpson, whose mocking swipe at Boris Johnson, wrapped in a disobliging comparison to Donald Trump, may provide a foretaste of what is to come, when the former foreign secretary makes his resignation statement later in the afternoon.

Normal constraints of courtesy between colleagues and party solidarity have been cast aside by all the factions - and this looked very like an early pre-emptive strike.

Resignation statements are normally heard in silence, but can be accompanied by a dumb-show.

Word reaches me that once Mr Johnson had reserved his chosen spot in the Chamber with a "prayer card" - as is the convention - government loyalists immediately tried to secure nearby seats, so that they could be seen in TV shot around him, shaking their heads and looking disapproving.

It clearly wasn't a wholly successful effort because he spent PMQs surrounded by a praetorian guard of Brexit stalwarts, but the game is clearly afoot.

The Podcast

An audio download of some of the key exchanges, and what Andrew Neil and his Daily Politics guests made of the exchanges.