UK Politics

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

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May Image copyright HOC

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

Theresa May got a taste of what is to come if she manages to return from Brussels with a Brexit deal, as she came under fire from every Brexit faction in the Commons - and faced calls from Jeremy Corbyn to stand aside and let Labour have a go.

The Labour leader zeroed in on comments by new Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, who said MPs would prevent a no-deal Brexit, apparently putting her at odds with the PM's "no deal is better than a bad deal" stance.

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn: Has PM ruled out no-deal Brexit?

He asked: "Does the prime minister agree there are no circumstances under which Britain would leave with no-deal?"

Mrs May replied "no" and said the alternative to her deal would "either be more uncertainty, more division or it could risk no Brexit at all".

"Isn't it the case that Parliament will rightly reject this bad deal," asked Mr Corbyn, "and if the government can't negotiate an alternative then it should make way for those who can and will."

Mrs May replied: "He is opposing a deal he hasn't read, he's promising a deal he can't negotiate, he's telling Leave voters one thing and Remain voters another - whatever (Mr Corbyn) will do, I will act in the national interest."

Mr Corbyn then asked whether the withdrawal agreement was finalised or whether there will be changes to come.

Mrs May said it was "part of a package" with the political declaration on the future relationship with the European Union.

Mr Corbyn made time for a dig at new Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, noting that Mrs May was heading to Brussels on Wednesday afternoon, rather than him.

He called Mr Barclay another "non-travelling" Brexit Secretary and wondered whether the post was now "entirely ceremonial". Mr Barclay managed a grin.

Then it was on to the transition period, that is due to kick-in after Brexit day in March, that the business secretary said earlier this week could be extended to 2022.

Mr Corbyn said it meant being outside of the EU and with no leverage. "Does she think she is fooling anyone" that she will get a free trade agreement by the end of 2020, asked the Labour leader.

Mrs May said the future relationship document, currently the subject of intense negotiations, will set out "the structure and scope" of the deal.

"He says there is a problem and he would do it differently," she went on, "he is playing party politics, I am working in the national interest".

The prime minister had said in February that "a border down the Irish Sea is something no UK prime minister could ever agree to", said Mr Corbyn, so why would the backstop do just that? It wouldn't, said Mrs May.

The pair repeated their attack lines before Mrs May brought their clash to an end with a declaration that "the public gave us an instruction to leave the European Union".

What else came up?

Mrs May rejected a call from the SNP's leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford, to renegotiate her Brexit deal to keep the UK in the single market and customs union, saying it would "frustrate the vote of the British people".

The prime minister branded Green MP Caroline Lucas's call for another referendum, on the grounds that public opinion had shifted since the 2016 referendum, "absolutely ridiculous," saying the public had given this Parliament "an instruction" to leave the EU.

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Media captionCaroline Lucas: "Does PM think democracy ended on 23 June 2016?"

Tory MP Bob Neill asked about Gibraltar.

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Media captionMay: Gibraltar will not be excluded from Brexit talks

Esther McVey, who quit the cabinet last week over the prime minister's EU withdrawal agreement, asked whether the UK was definitely going to leave the EU on 29 March.

The Verdict

Here is BBC Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D'Arcy's take on the session:

Theresa May must have felt that she picked up today where she left off on Thursday, with another rolling interrogation on Brexit. And she quickly defaulted into her weary-but-resolute mode.

Backbench Brexiteer Andrew Rossindell kicked off proceedings with a direct appeal for the PM to change course on Brexit, saying her plan was not the Brexit his Romford constituents voted for. Then Jeremy Corbyn piled in with a well-targeted question picking up comments from ministers that "no deal" was not an option, and asking if there were any circumstances where the UK would quit the EU without a deal - a question the prime minister didn't really answer.

The confusion deepened a little later, when the PM confirmed to her ex-colleague Esther McVey that the UK would leave on the appointed date of 29 March - which at least implied that this was possible without a deal, and also seemed to pull back from previous warnings that failing to back her proposed Brexit deal risked "no Brexit at all".

Another important moment came when the DUP Leader Nigel Dodds confirmed that his party's relations with the government remain in the deep freeze, when he asked a hostile question about the disappearance of a government promise that the people of Northern Ireland would have the final say on any divergence from the UK's single market.

You could hear the acid drip as he asked: "Did she press the delete button?"

No sign of kissing and making up there. And that matters because it is hard to see how the PM's deal gets through the Commons without Mr Dodds and his troops (now restored to full strength with the return from suspension of Ian Paisley Jr).

It was a noisy session but I was expecting it to be noisier still.

Part of the reason may be that the big-name Brexiteers who have been trying to unseat the PM did not intervene, which would surely have produced cheers and jeers aplenty (Jacob Rees-Mogg was in the chamber, but did not attempt to speak and left before the end of the session).

Another factor is that neither of the two main players was able to sound a clear trumpet note to their troops.

Jeremy Corbyn was in an excellent position to call for a second referendum, but clearly had no intention of doing so, and his mainly-Remainer MPs were not, therefore, delighted.

We already know that Theresa May's deal has not exactly delighted Conservative MPs either (even the ones who support it) and a series of questions on the details (Bob Neill on Gibraltar, George Freeman on Northern Ireland, Neil Parish on agriculture) caught the wary mood on the Tory benches.

It seemed to me that the two leaders were both better at attacking each other than defending their own positions, which meant that a lot of time was taken up with accusations of "more muddled than thou".

But the bottom line is that it is now close to impossible - in the absence of any overriding mega-event - to talk about anything but Brexit at PMQs.