Sunday 22 October 2017

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn weren’t at PMQs, but the B-Team really came through

When the teachers are away, the kids will play.

First Secretary of State Damian Green speaks during PMQs (PA/PA Wire)
First Secretary of State Damian Green speaks during PMQs (PA/PA Wire)

By Isabel Togoh

In absence of both party leaders on Wednesday, Prime Minister’s Questions became a lively affair as frontbenchers Damian Green and Emily Thornberry represented May and Corbyn.

On the agenda was Brexit, and with just over 20 months to go until Britain officially leaves the EU, the possibility of a potential “no deal” exit was a hot topic.

And yet, it was the dynamic exchange between the two cabinet stand-ins which really drew people’s attention.

Ahead of her first question, Thornberry noted that Green had been the 16th cabinet member to represent the Tories at PMQs since he was first elected in 1997, and added: “How about I give him up to the end of the session to name all the others?”

In good humour, Green jokingly accepted Thornberry’s challenge and was quick to respond by pointing out the Conservative record of being represented by two female Prime Ministers – Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

“There are many, many distinguished people of both sexes who’ve done (PMQs) in this party because we, of course, elect women leaders,” the First Secretary of State delivered to cheers from the Tory front and backbenches.

But Thornberry did not disappoint with her clapback.

She said: “I mentioned at the outset that he’s the 16th member to represent his party in Prime Minister’s Questions since 1997 – only three of those have been women, and the last one before the current Prime Minister was 16 years ago.

“I believe we’ve had three women Labour MPs doing this job in the last two years alone.”

The zingers didn’t end there, as Thornberry challenged the Tory leadership’s weakened position following June’s election, and suggested that there could be more than a few keen frontbenchers looking to replace May.

The MP for Islington South and Finsbury said: “I understand the Honourable Member is new to this, but the way that it works is that I ask the questions, and he answers them.

“We’re (Labour) quite happy to swap places with them and, frankly, if he doesn’t want to continue under these rules, I’m sure there’s plenty other people on the front bench who wold love to audition as Prime Minister.”

May was absent on Wednesday as she attended a ceremony to welcome the King and Queen of Spain on their State Visit to the UK.

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Queen Elizabeth II greets Prime Minister Theresa May as she arrives for a ceremonial welcome to King Felipe VI and Letizia of Spain (Nick Ansell/PA)

Thornberry took Labour’s lead at PMQs last December, where she was mostly praised for her performance against Commons leader David Lidington, who represented the Tories.

During Wednesday’s session, Thornberry also compared suspended Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris to former BNP leader Nick Griffin, after Morris used the n-word last week while discussing the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

Amid the exchanges, Tory representative Green committed a gaffe when he wrongly identified shadow education secretary Angela Rayner as Labour’s Education “spokesman”.

Rayner took to Twitter to remind Green.

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