PMQs scorecard: Sunak and Starmer spar on everything but Brexit
Don’t mention the B word as in our entirely unscientific weekly take on the Commons joust.
LONDON — Prime minister’s questions: a shouty, jeery, very occasionally useful advert for British politics. Here’s what you need to know from this week’s session in POLITICO U.K.’s new weekly run-through.
What they sparred about: Not Brexit, weirdly. With a Windsor Framework EU deal delivering a week of generally positive headlines for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Labour leader Keir Starmer didn’t mention the B-word once. He instead tried to move on to more comfortable terrain, pressing Sunak on the U.K.’s weak economic growth, soaring energy firm profits and the country’s never-ending housing crisis.
Biggest cheer of the day: The roar that greeted Labour’s Rosie Duffield — a persistent critic of Starmer and gender self-ID policies — from the Tory benches was, if anything, far louder than the one they gave Sunak, despite his recent Brexit triumph.
Biggest groan of the day: Even Starmer seemed to barely believe in his opening zinger, the aim of which was to point out the U.K.’s sluggish economy when compared to Poland. “If the Tories limp on in government, we’re going to see a generation of children learning to say ‘Auf Wiedersen, Pet’ in Polish, aren’t we?” Deep cut there for the 80s comedy fans. Some MPs were even caught on camera quite literally groaning.
Put-down of the day: Sunak looked somewhat stung by a rare intervention from Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, after the PM delivered a sermon on Labour’s lack of support for new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea. His only problem? The answer bore no resemblance to the question Starmer had just put to him — as Hoyle pointed out.
Very helpful intervention of the week: Where would we be without a sympathetic question toeing the government line? Sunak got the opportunity to talk up his Tory crowd-pleasing policy on stopping small boats from crossing the English Channel after the Tory MP Craig Tracey asked the PM to “reassure [his] constituents that stopping illegal immigration remains a key priority for his government.” Hard-hitting stuff.
Recurring theme of the week: Brexit-averse Starmer and his foot-soldiers may not have gone anywhere near Sunak’s deal on the NI protocol — but that didn’t stop three other MPs from other parties, who had noticed Sunak’s joyful comments on how Northern Ireland benefits from having access to the single market. Going for two birds with one stone, the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn asked: “Does it hurt the PM know that the Labour leader believes in Brexit more than he does?”
PMQs not-completely-pointless shock: Amid the politicking and the poorly-delivered zingers, there is occasionally space in PMQs for an important point to be made. Labour backbencher Sarah Champion pointed out that despite the government promising last year to pause the rollout of controversial “smart motorways” amid major safety concerns, three new schemes have gone live. Sunak himself said that smart motorways are “unsafe” while running for the leadership last year. Champion cited figures from campaign group Smart Motorways Kill suggesting 79 people have been killed on the roads since the inception of smart motorways.