Given the deep Cabinet splits over Theresa May’s plans for Britain’s customs arrangements with the EU after Brexit, there was a very clear line of attack for Jeremy Corbyn to lead with at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. The Labour leader doesn’t always take the most obvious line, but he did today, first asking May about Boris Johnson’s description of the new customs partnership as ‘crazy’.
This elicited a rather robotic response from the Prime Minister, who helpfully chanted to the Commons that ‘we are leaving the European Union, we are leaving the customs union’. Corbyn made things still more awkward for his opponent by then switching to quoting Greg Clark’s warning that jobs would be at risk without frictionless trade with the EU. This showed that the Cabinet splits really are quite deep ravines, rather than an argument between the Prime Minister and one rogue Secretary of State.
Corbyn wasn’t agile in this session, but that helped, because there was just no need to pick May up on the fact she wasn’t answering his questions at all. The purpose of his attack was to highlight what a mess the government is in over the customs union question, and he succeeded in doing this.
It is worth noting, though, that May kept her cool throughout the exchanges, something that was near-impossible for her predecessor. David Cameron would most likely have gone all pink and shouty by the second question in a session so focused on government weakness, but May seems to be able to internalise this pressure quite effectively. Unfortunately, this strategy of internalising pressure isn’t working quite so well with the Cabinet.