At PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn finally tried to hold Theresa May to account for her Brexit negotiations – and failed miserably

Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow Brexit and Foreign secretaries, have just published 170 questions which the Government needs to answer about Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn failed to ask even one of them

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The Independent Online

Not for the first time, I was obviously in the wrong press gallery watching a different session of Prime Minister’s Questions from everyone else. I thought Jeremy Corbyn started badly, with a graceless response to Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP who had referred to his prostate condition when asking about nurse numbers.

The Labour leader said he wished Fabricant well and hoped that everyone could enjoy such good NHS treatment. He meant he wanted the NHS to be wonderful for everyone, but it sounded as if he thought Fabricant had better treatment because he was an MP. When Tory MPs protested, Corbyn responded with tetchy self-righteousness. 

After this bad start, I thought Corbyn – who had a good outing at PMQs last time – returned to his usual level. He read out long boring questions which caused Theresa May no trouble at all. She congratulated him on winning the Labour leadership, which prompted the Tory side of the House to erupt into prolonged cheers. It was childish, but it is politics. 

When asked about foreigners being asked about their eligibility for NHS treatment, she said that where people should be paying, they should do so. Some Labour supporters may not like it, but there is no doubt that she has overwhelming public support on that question. 

Then Corbyn asked a question about Brexit, for the first time in PMQs. Unfortunately it was a waffly, poorly worded question, even though it had been written for him. He asked if “access to the single market was a red line” for the Government. It is a meaningless question, because every country in the world has access to the EU single market. The question is on what terms, and the Prime Minister said that the Government would seek the best possible terms. 

PMQs - Pregnant Women having to show passports at hospitals

Corbyn tried to quote pro-EU Tory troublemakers Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke, but there was no point to his questions. It was bizarre. Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow Brexit and Foreign secretaries, have just published 170 questions that the Government cannot answer on Brexit and Corbyn didn’t ask one of them. 

May simply declared that Labour didn’t want a referendum on Europe and it “didn’t like the result”. Then she pointed out that Thornberry, who was barracking her from the Ed Balls memorial position on Labour’s front bench, had wanted a second referendum. The Prime Minister said: “As Labour knows, you can ask the same question again but you still get the answer you don’t want.”

I don’t agree with scoring PMQs like a sport, but I thought that was game, set and match to the Prime Minister. As I say, though, I must have watched a different PMQs from everyone else, as many of those watching thought Corbyn did a good job of holding the Government to account on the big question of the day. 

I thought the only effective question came from Angela Eagle, who should have contested the Labour leadership, and who asked May if the parliamentary scrutiny of Article 50 – which starts the process of leaving the EU – would “involve a vote”. The Prime Minister confidently declared that Parliament would have “every opportunity to debate” the subject, notably avoiding an answer.