Quentin Letts sees a robust Theresa May Commons address
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After a prang, clamber back on your cycle, steady your nerve, disappoint the bloodhunters.
Theresa May pretty much did that yesterday on the first day back at Westminster when she completed a long stint at the Commons despatch box to report on the Brexit process.
The Tory backbenches were broadly supportive.
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After a prang, clamber back on your cycle, steady your nerve, disappoint the bloodhunters. Theresa May pretty much did that yesterday on the first day back at Westminster
Gone was the adenoidal croaker of Manchester. In its place was the old Mrs May: Sturdy, unshowy, able to drop her bat on awkward details.
Three glasses and two decanters of water had been placed next to her but the voice had recovered. And instead of a prankster interrupting her, as happened at her conference speech, she faced the more consistently comical figure of Jeremy Corbyn.
Parliament is where Mrs May is comfortable. The premium here lies in governmental cogs and nuts rather than that damnable commodity known as sparkle. She’s not so good at sparkle, our Theresa. Nitty-gritty, she can do.
I remember watching Mrs Thatcher, when she was in political trouble, flare up and try to conquer the House with insistent brio. Out came the handbag: Whack, whack, whack. Geoffrey Howe took one smack in the chops. It was wonderful to watch but it soon finished her premiership.
Mrs May yesterday took the less theatrical – less perilous – route of controlled debate, delicate Centrism and a faintly schoolmarmy primness. She dulls the moment when like this. It is brutally effective, even if it makes for slow tennis.
Tory Whip David Evennett was acting as maitre d’, telling Cabinet ministers where to sit. He placed Brexit Secretary David Davis next to Mrs May – the slot normally grabbed by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, who had to settle for a place three away.
As Mrs May addressed MPs in the Commons today, the Foreign Secretary missed the beginning of her speech, shuffling in late and taking his between Sajid Javid and Priti Patel
Boris Johnson steamed in a minute late and by then all the places near the PM had been given to minor players.
There was a vignette of egos as two chunky non-Cabinet ministers, John Hayes and ‘Sir’ Michael Ellis, tried to squeeze on the front bench. Overloaded lifeboat! A less than gruntled Ellis was thrown overboard and had to sit on a step.
Mrs May said she was pursuing ‘a unique and ambitious economic partnership’ with Europe after we quit the EU. Kenneth Clarke (Con, Rushcliffe) laughed unhelpfully, his face purple save for a white patch around the muzzle.
Mrs May rolled her eyes in an oh-do-grow-up manner after Labour jeered when she discussed British commitments on defence. ‘We can prove the doomsayers wrong,’ continued Mrs May.
It was the Tories’ chance to laugh when Mr Corbyn said the Government was in ‘confusion’ over Brexit. Frank Spencer might as well criticise a neighbour’s DIY. While Mr Corbyn was talking, the left ankle of Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Sir Keir Starmer, rotated quickly. That can be a sign of unease.
It was the Tories’ chance to laugh when Jeremy Corbyn said the Government was in ‘confusion’ over Brexit
Mrs May kept saying how ‘optimistic and ambitious’ she was. Some of the nerdier Blairite Europhiles went off on one about legal advice possibly showing that Brexit could be reversed.
Mrs May said we were leaving and that was that. We were also preparing for No Deal, she claimed. Let’s hope Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is not ignoring her on that.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, NE Somerset) worried about the European Court of Justice continuing to have a say over our affairs. Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) said Mrs May’s Florence speech ‘felt like a reward for the EU’s intransigence’. He wanted Mrs May to be more canny in the negotiations.
Sir Hugo Swire (Con, E Devon) noted that power in the EU had recently moved from Berlin to Paris. He hoped Mrs May would tell President Macron to be a good neighbour. Mrs May assured him that M Macron was keen to ‘enhance our bilateral relationship’.
An interesting reply: Perhaps there is room to play France against Germany a little.
Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport W) talked of Brexit being a ‘jobs hell’. It certainly will be for those MEPs who just sided with the EU against Britain.