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Quentin Letts sees Theresa face Tory Brexiteers at PMQs 

By Quentin Letts for the Daily Mail

Published: 21:13 EST, 6 December 2017 | Updated: 21:39 EST, 6 December 2017

She was greeted with the usual cheers from Government sycophants when she entered the Chamber at 11.57am but during Prime Minister’s Questions a few minutes later, Theresa May was regarded with suspicion by Conservative Brexiteers.

They have put up with an awful lot of nonsense from her and her Government so far during the Brussels negotiations. They swallowed that underwhelming Florence speech. They kept schtum when she gaily offered ever higher sums of ‘divorce payment’ to Jean-Claude Juncker. But with that fandango in Brussels on Monday their patience has frayed.

Their understated unease is a great deal more powerful, theatrically, than any amount of pro-European squeaking from the Opposition or from Mother Soubry. It is more menacing, all the colder for being below the surface. You sense that they, like their Democratic Unionist allies, are deadly serious about their position and therefore see no need to exaggerate it. Hyperbole is the currency of bluffers and despots.

Jacob Rees-Mogg made his point to Theresa May with such 'faultless politeness' that he 'could have been offering her a slice of lemon drizzle cake'
Jacob Rees-Mogg made his point to Theresa May with such 'faultless politeness' that he 'could have been offering her a slice of lemon drizzle cake'

Jacob Rees-Mogg made his point to Theresa May with such 'faultless politeness' that he 'could have been offering her a slice of lemon drizzle cake'

Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, NE Somerset) was called towards the end of the session. He stood at the far end of the House, double-breasted suit, voice unhysterical, one hand used to help convey his point. He asked Mrs May if, before her next trip to Brussels, she would ‘apply a new coat of paint to her red lines because on Monday they were starting to look a little bit pink’.

Translation: we’ve had enough of this pusillanimous caving in to the EU, Prime Minister. As ever with Mr Rees-Mogg, it was put with faultless politeness. He could have been offering her a slice of lemon drizzle cake.

But it still must have stung her a little. A Labour heckler told Mr Rees-Mogg to ‘grow up!’ but it was a clever and accessible and proper question – and will certainly have meant more to viewers than all the bejargoned stuff churned out by officialdom.

Mrs May gave a faintly insincere laugh and replied: ‘I can happily say that the principles on which this Government is negotiating were set out in the Lancaster House speech, they were set out in the Florence speech, and those principles remain.’ 

Bernard Jenkin was 'gentlemanly' in his questioning, reminding the Prime Minister that many countries wanted trade deals with the UK
Bernard Jenkin was 'gentlemanly' in his questioning, reminding the Prime Minister that many countries wanted trade deals with the UK

Bernard Jenkin was 'gentlemanly' in his questioning, reminding the Prime Minister that many countries wanted trade deals with the UK

Make of that what you will, for the Lancaster House and Florence speeches had very different flavours.

Another Eurosceptic, Bernard Jenkin (Con, Harwich & N Essex), again impeccably gentlemanly, reminded the PM that countries such as Canada, Japan, the US and Australia are eager to talk to us about trade deals. There is apparently even talk of us joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Yet all those opportunities would ‘not come our way if we remain shackled to EU regulations once we have left the EU’ (which is pretty much what Downing Street’s geniuses seem to have been proposing on Monday).

Mrs May again said she was ‘very happy’ to assure Mr Jenkin she knew about those trade deal offers. What she wanted to do, she added, was ‘get a good trade deal with the EU’ in addition to all that other foreign stuff. Again, we must make of this what we will.

Peter Bone wondered if the Prime Minister would like him to accompany her on her next trip to Brussels 
Peter Bone wondered if the Prime Minister would like him to accompany her on her next trip to Brussels 

Peter Bone wondered if the Prime Minister would like him to accompany her on her next trip to Brussels 

When she claimed that she could achieve both a soft border in Ireland and full independence from the EU, Labour MPs yelled: ‘How? How? How?’ When she rounded on them and gave them a longish-winded answer, the hecklers added: ‘You don’t know!’

Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough) was worried about European judges still having some sway over our courts. He wondered if Mrs May would like him to join her when she next goes to Brussels. Much laughter at this. I don’t know why. Old Bone might give Juncker & Co a more accurate view of British opinion than Mrs May’s civil servants are doing.

At points of order, the Scots Nats and others were still banging on about Brexit Secretary David Davis not handing over all the Whitehall papers which Europhile MPs thought they had forced him to surrender. Speaker Bercow did some posturing.

That little sideshow will rumble on a few days yet but it is more about MPs’ vanity than Brexit.

 

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