PMQs today was an old-fashioned, political barney. I have rarely heard the chamber as loud as it was today. Corbyn’s final question – which was, in reality, more of a speech – was inaudible up in the press gallery because of the noise below. But to the relief of May loyalists, there were no hostile questions for her from her own side: no fuel was thrown on the fire started by last night’s meeting of the European Research Group.
Corbyn’s questions were on Universal Credit. May tried to turn his usual PMQs tactics back on him, and quoted ordinary people who had benefited from universal credit. But the tactic wasn’t as effective defending government policy as it can be attacking it; something would be very wrong if no one had gained from a government policy.
May did though, have one effective moment in the exchanges. She ran through what has happened in the Labour party with deselections and the like in recent days, and then said ‘that’s what he’s done to Labour, think what he would do to the country’. It is a line that’ll make those wavering Labour moderates feel even more uncomfortable.
In response to two very gentle questions from Tory MPs, Mrs May made a little bit of Brexit news. She indicated that the UK would withhold part of the £39 billion divorce payment if there is no deal. At the same time, she responded to Jean-Claude Juncker’s state of the union comments about how the UK wouldn’t just be any old third country after Brexit, by saying to the EU, ‘you’ll never be an ordinary third party to us’. This isn’t the most poetic thing a Prime Minister has said. It doesn’t even sound better in French. But the Juncker comments, perhaps, give us a preview of some of the language that we might see in the political declaration that will accompany the withdrawal agreement.