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

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter


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

The prime minister warmed up for her talks with EU leaders in Brussels by facing a barrage of questions on Brexit from Jeremy Corbyn, which ranged from the highly technical to the very broad.

He began with a broad one, was the Chequers deal - her blueprint for post-Brexit trade - dead?

"The answer is no," replied Mrs May.

media captionPMQs: Corbyn and May on post-Brexit Chequers trade deal

That's not what cabinet ministers Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey appeared to believe, said Mr Corbyn. Perhaps she could talk to them about it over pizza, he suggested (the two ministers were reported to have discussed their concerns with other sceptical ministers over a take-away meal).

The Treasury has issued legal advice saying the UK will still pay the £30bn "divorce bill" even if it leaves the EU without a deal, said Mr Mr Corbyn. Is that correct?

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

It was actually £39bn, said Mrs May, and this was a country "that honours its legal obligations and we will do exactly that", before leaving herself a little wiggle room with her familiar mantra that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

Then it was on to the Irish border "backstop" - the issue that has caused Brexit talks to stall.

In December last year, the UK and EU signed off on a withdrawal agreement saying the UK would maintain "full alignment" with the customs union and rules of the single market. Did she sign up to that "without any time limit", asked Mr Corbyn.

Mrs May said it was always clear that the Irish border issue would be sorted out as part of the separate "future relationship" agreement. The backstop was just there to "bridge the gap" between the end of the transition period and when the "future relationship" is in place, something she was confident would happen on 1 January, 2021.

The PM should stand by her commitment to a backstop with no time limit, said Mr Corbyn, before broadening out his attack to warn that "jobs are at risk" in the car industry if the UK does not sign up to Labour's policy of a customs union with the EU.

The Chequers plan would ensure free-flowing trade said Mrs May - and it was better than Labour "havering around" on free movement and "now wanting a second referendum" - something she would never countenance.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Mr Corbyn hit back with warnings about the impact of Brexit on the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry.

Instead of "protecting people's jobs and our economy", shouted the Labour leader, as Speaker Bercow ordered MPs to pipe down, the government had spent the past two years "bickering amongst themselves". They were still at it as the deadline was approaching and it was time Mrs May listened to the unions and business and put "the interests of the British people first".

This was the cue for Mrs May to hail the latest unemployment figures, the fuel duty freeze and the fastest rising wages for a decade - and accuse Labour of "playing politics" while the government "delivered", as Conservative MPs bayed for "more".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

What else came up?

The SNP's leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford also went on Brexit.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Conservative Brexiteer Julian Lewis asked who would actually build a hard Irish border.

media captionA MP claims a physical border in Ireland "surely can never happen" unless the "EU army plans to march in" and build it?

Labour's Teresa Pearce raised the case of a constituent who had been sexually harassed at work - in Parliament.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Labour's Ian Lucas asked Mrs May to "take responsibility" and step in over reports of free TV licences not being offered to those aged 75 or older in future years. The PM said it was up to the BBC to allocate its budget.

media captionIan Lucas asks Theresa May to "take responsibility" over the loss of free TV licences for pensioners

Labour MP Steve McCabe asked about a diabetic monitor used by Theresa May.

media captionSteve McCabe says the diabetic monitor used by Theresa May is denied to 500,000 other people

The DUP's Nigel Dodds asked the PM about Brexit.

media captionNigel Dodds asks about the difficulties for MPs to back a withdrawal agreement without "pretty clear assurances"

The Verdict

Here is BBC deputy political editor John Pienaar's take on the session:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Here's BBC parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy's view:

As so often, I'm not sure anyone's much the wiser after Prime Minister's Questions - the prime minister restated her position without any signs of evolution, and rejected suggestions about customs unions and Norway options, saying they were counter to the expressed will of the British people in the referendum.

Jeremy Corbyn delivered a well-structured series of questions on Brexit, without managing to penetrate her stock responses on each issue. The downside, for him, was that his question inevitably involved a large helping of Brexit Babble - the impenetrable jargon about "Chequers" and "a customs union" which is far less accessible than his normal line of questioning about bread-and-butter public service issues.

Maybe the most interesting Brexit question was from Cornwall Conservative Steve Double, who highlighted the need to admit seasonal foreign labour to keep tourism businesses going in his area.

The specific problems for particular industries in particular areas are far harder to dismiss with generalities, and this sub-species of Brexit question will probably become more common, as MPs seek to reflect constituency concerns.

Later in the session the SNP's Ian Blackford repeated the suggestion that Ken Clarke offered the prime minister at PMQs last week, about sidelining her "hard Brexit" MPs and constructing a Commons majority for a soft Brexit deal with Labour and SNP votes.

The PM resisted the temptation, but she can expect this offer to be repeated as often as the calls for a second referendum, at PMQs yet to come.