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No fanfare, no cheers, and a thin turnout at PMQs

17 July 2019

3:59 PM

17 July 2019

3:59 PM

A thin turnout for Theresa May’s penultimate PMQs. Labour members were skulking in corridors plotting to oust their leader. And Tories, especially devout Remainers, were busy talking to journalists about their lifelong commitment to a no-deal Brexit.

Mrs May seemed to be angling for the post of chief attack dog at the next election. Jeremy Corbyn asked her about climate change but she raised Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis.

‘You have failed the test of leadership,’ she said, bending the rules by addressing him directly.

‘Stand up and apologise.’

Breaches of protocol always add extra juice to Commons rows.

Corbyn retorted that Labour was the first party to pass anti-racism legislation in Britain. May snapped back with a quote from Trevor Philips, once head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

‘Labour today presents like a textbook case of institutional racism.’

Corbyn performed a not-so-subtle switcheroo and brought up Tory Islamophobia.

‘He still didn’t apologise,’ carped the prime minister.

Corbyn upped the stakes by accusing her personally of racism. Remember those ‘Go Home’ signs aimed at illegal migrants? May endorsed them when she was Home Secretary.

Her response was pre-planned. She unfurled a full-page newspaper advert funded by Labour bigwigs concerned about anti-Semitism. She shook it at him in disgust. The atmosphere crackled with mutual contempt.

She ended with a rehearsed statement which was supposed to be a heat-of-the-moment outburst. She evoked his great Labour heroes, Attlee, Bevan and Benn, and imagined them denouncing him in unison.

‘Look what he has done to our party. He must never be allowed to do that to our country!’

Nigel Evans celebrated international Pride marches and asked about reforming anti-gay laws in Commonwealth countries. We must teach them, he argued, ‘to live in harmony and love.’

What a gloopy sentiment. And how deeply naive. Never mind harmony and love. Try suspending aid. That’ll concentrate minds.

Ian Blackford of the SNP also accused the PM of racism. But he blundered by suggesting that the next Tory leader would ‘embrace the kind of nationalism that has seen Ukip grow.’

Seen Ukip grow? Ukip is so small it can hardly be seen at all. May seized on his ‘nationalism’ slur.

‘The only party appealing to blatant nationalism is the SNP.’

Some Tories paid generous tributes to May’s legacy. But the SNP’s leading grumpy chops, Kirsty Blackman, leaped on the PM’s favourite piece of legislation, the Modern Slavery Act.

‘A legacy to be ashamed of,’ she bellowed, referring to the lack of discretionary visas granted to trafficking victims.

‘A cruel and callous hostile environment is her legacy,’ she went on. ‘Will she apologise? Or will she hang her head in shame?’

Kirsty Blackwood and the staggeringly self-important Ian Blackford give a very false impression of the cheerful, friendly and, dare I say it, well-adjusted people north of the border.

The final question concerned a sick constituent.

‘I don’t have a response to the case she has raised,’ said the prime minster, ‘but I will make sure a response comes to her before I leave office.’

That was it. Her last word at her penultimate PMQs. She hunched forwards on the Treasury bench for a moment and then walked out, behind the Speaker’s chair. No fanfare. No waving of order papers. No cheers.

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