Prime Minister's Questions: Tory rebellion and Theresa May's 'weekend shopping list'

Prime Minister's Questions: Tory rebellion and Theresa May's 'weekend shopping list'

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

As the Prime Minister tours the country in an attempt to sell her deal before the so-called meaningful vote, the political pressure is building at Westminster.

In the last 24 hours two serious challenges have emerged for Theresa May - and both were highlighted at PMQs.

Firstly, the government is refusing to publish full legal advice given by the Attorney General on its Brexit deal.

The government will instead publish a summary (a “full, reasoned position statement") - probably on Monday.

Corbyn challenged the Prime Minister: "MPs need to see that advice, warts and all, so they can make their informed decision on this matter."

He criticised the Prime Minister for hypocrisy - she previously demanded the publication of Cabinet legal advice on the Iraq War.

Mrs May replied: "The advice any client receives from their lawyer is privileged - that's the same for Government as it is for any member of the public."


'Humble address' 


Labour sources confirmed this afternoon that they are "seeking mechanisms" to force the publication of the advice in full.

A previous vote in the House of Commons instructed the government to publish the advice in its entirety.

Speaker John Bercow raised the stakes, warning the government may be in contempt of the House of Commons if that vote is ignored.

He said in response to a point of order raised by Sir Keir Starmer: "If.. he already knows enough to be sure that ministers are not complying with the humble address, he is free to write to me as early as he likes, to suggest that the House has seen or is about to be subject to a contempt and seeking precedence for a motion to deal with it."

Sir Keir has written to de facto deputy Prime Minister David Lidington making clear: "Labour and parliament will accept nothing short of the full legal advice presented to cabinet."

Some Tory backbenchers like Sir Bill Cash are now backing Labour's calls.

Ministers are clearly reluctant to release the document. Why?

It is thought it includes a frank admission that the Irish border backstop exit mechanism would effectively allow the EU to control when the UK might leave.

This would be a red flag to Brexit-supporting Tory backbenchers and would almost certainly harden their rebellion before the crucial vote.

If the government were to be found in contempt of the House of Commons, the optics would be dire for Theresa May - considering she is trying to convince parliament to back her deal.


'26-page wishlist' 

The second major obstacle for May was presented by her own 'grid' - the plan for selling the deal.

Number 10 plans an all-out political and media assault to convince the public and MPs to back her over the next week and a half.

Today the focus was supposed to be on the economy - has all quite gone to plan?

This afternoon the Treasury and DExEU published a series of economic impact assessments

Earlier, Philip Hammond was forced to admit the UK economy will be "slightly smaller" because of Theresa May's plan.

Corbyn attacked the Prime Minister: "The Government's economic forecasts published today are actually meaningless because there's no actual deal to model, just a 26-page wishlist."

May parried: "What does Labour have to offer? Six bullet points - my weekend shopping list is longer than that."

But the Prime Minister seemed to contradict her own Chancellor when she said: "This analysis does not show that we will be poorer in the future than we are today, no it doesn't, it shows we will be better off with this deal."

Who is right? Number 10 or Number 11?


100-strong rebellion

Meanwhile, the whipping operation continues. Tory backbenchers are getting 'the tap on the shoulder' from their whips, and discussions to erode the 100-strong Tory rebellion on the vote are constantly in play. 

Increasingly, a stronger sway over the ultimate outcome is not in the hands of government whips - but Labour's high command.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said today: "Our policy is if we can't get a general election, then the other option which we've kept on the table is a people's vote."

Corbyn's language has not yet been quite so forward. It's unlikely the Labour leader's office would allow a u-turn on a second referendum before a vote takes place.

But May picked up on these shifting sands at the despatch box: "Last night, the Shadow Chancellor told an audience in London that he wanted to seize upon a second referendum and vote Remain."

Perhaps those hoping for a second vote may yet be satisfied - or at least buoyed by softening Labour rhetoric. 

But any chance of that means defeating Theresa May's deal in the House of Commons next month - and other outcomes, such as passing the deal on a second vote, a no deal exit or a general election remain plausible.