Tory MPs offered a warmer reception to Theresa May’s statement in the Commons this afternoon than they managed during yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions. The Prime Minister herself seemed very confident as she explained today’s political declaration to MPs. That’s about as far as you can go when looking for signs of success in this afternoon’s Commons Brexit drama.
For instance, straight after the statement, we received confirmation from Iain Duncan Smith that he and other Brexiteers do still find the Brexit deal unacceptable and will kill it in the Commons. May had only minutes before praised Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson in her statement for ideas that they’d offered for the ‘explicit commitment to consider facilitative arrangements and technologies which could avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland’. And there was heckling while May claimed that the agreement ‘ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK’. MPs shouted ‘it doesn’t!’ as May tried to continue speaking. Then when May was responding to the critique from Jeremy Corbyn, she tried to get her MPs to join in with her as she listed how the agreement met Labour’s six tests for supporting it in the Commons.
A good idea, perhaps, if your party is behind you and all its MPs will shout ‘yes!’ as noisily as possible as you pause after each test. Instead, Labour MPs were bellowing ‘NO!’ into those gaps, while Tory MPs looked grouchy. Worse, May actually left out one of the six tests, which was that it would deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ that Britain has as members of the Single Market and Customs Union. This does rather beg the question of why May thought it was a good idea to refer to the six tests at all, when she only felt she could list five.
May knows that her party’s hostility to the agreement is only growing, and so there was no jubilant tone as she spoke. She chided Corbyn not for having a party that was split on Europe, but for failing to read the documents, presumably because a repeated emphasis on her being a serious leader works in contrast with the shenanigans in her own party too. But regardless of the status of the European Research Group’s deflated coup, those shenanigans over Brexit are just getting started.