“This Government is now an irrelevance,” Jeremy Corbyn told Theresa May in a fiery PMQs exchange today with the clock ticking on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
“The two candidates to succeed her have only got fantasy plans,” added Corbyn, “since she and her successors have no answers, doesn’t the Prime Minister accept that the best thing to do would be to go back to the people and let them decide which way we go?”
The leader of the opposition brought up a confidential government memo which apparently revealed teh country’s lack of readiness for leaving the EU with no deal.
The Labour Party leader asked the PM to speak to Tory leadership hopefuls Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt and remind them that thousands of jobs are “at risk” the more they “ratchet up” their no-deal Brexit rhetoric.
He also challenged May at Prime Minister’s Questions to explain what she would tell workers whose jobs are dependent on the Brexit outcome, to which she countered that the “vast majority” of Tory MPs voted to “protect their jobs” after backing her deal.
“A confidential cabinet note apparently says that the government is not prepared for no deal and NHS Trusts have warned it will pose a major risk to NHS services and, Mr Speaker, Make UK, representing British manufacturers recently said there is a direct link between politicans talking up the prospect of no-deal and British firms losing customers overseas and people losing their jobs”.
Corbyn asked May if these were “legitimate concerns across the manufacturing sector.”
Theresa May responded by slamming Labour for rejecting her deal on three occasions and later claimed the Opposition wants to “block” Brexit, telling the Commons: “That would be a betrayal of the many by the few.”
He said: “The former foreign secretary (Mr Johnson) says concerns about no-deal are confected hysteria.
“Who does the Prime Minister think is right?”
Mrs May replied: “The figure that was quoted was publicly available at the time, it was a figure that was quoted in the Government’s economic analysis in relation to these matters.
“But can I also say to you that if you are worried about no-deal, I have done everything I can to ensure we leave the EU with a deal?
“I can look workers in the eye and tell them I voted to leave with a deal that protects jobs. You can’t do that, because you voted three times for no-deal.”
Corbyn also highlighted no-deal Brexit concerns from motor manufacturers and traders before noting Vauxhall has said its decision to produce a new Astra at Ellesmere Port is conditional on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.
He asked: “So what can the Prime Minister say to workers at Ellesmere Port and elsewhere… Why doesn’t she speak to both of the candidates to succeed her and remind them that as they trade insults over no-deal, it’s thousands of jobs that are at risk the more they ratchet up their rhetoric?”
May replied: “I’ll tell him what I’d say to workers at Ellesmere Port: I and the vast majority of Conservative members in this House voted to protect their jobs.
“The Labour Party whipped three times against a deal, the Labour Party whipped three times for no-deal. The threat to those Ellesmere Port jobs is from the Labour Party.”
Corbyn said his party was about protecting jobs and living standards in the country, not “crashing out” the EU without a deal.
He added Labour put forward a motion to take no-deal off the table.
Corbyn switched focus to the Northern Ireland backstop and asked Mrs May to confirm it is not possible to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and therefore the backstop.
The PM replied: “I don’t think I need to tell (Mr Corbyn) what was in the council conclusions. Those are clear and I’ve made those clear at this despatch box.”
She then misspoke when describing Mr Corbyn as “all mouth and trousers” when it came to the votes which would have an impact on a no-deal Brexit.
Concluding, Corbyn said: “This Government is now an irrelevance.
“The two candidates to succeed her have only got fantasy plans. Since she and her successors have no answers, doesn’t the Prime Minister accept that the best thing to do would be to go back to the people and let them decide which way we go?”
May reiterated MPs have to vote for a deal if they want the UK to leave with an agreement, adding this is something Mr Corbyn and his colleagues have “consistently refused to do”.
She added: “There’s another question for the Labour Party on this with all this talk about no-deal. The question really is: where does the Labour Party stand on Brexit?
“The shadow Brexit secretary (Sir Keir Starmer) doesn’t support Brexit, the shadow foreign secretary (Emily Thornberry), the shadow chancellor (John McDonnell) doesn’t support Brexit, the Labour deputy leader (Tom Watson) doesn’t support Brexit.
“Labour wants to block Brexit and that would be a betrayal of the many by the few.”