QUENTIN LETTS on Prime Minister’s Questions: The Commons had sated air

The Commons had a sated air, like a coyote pack after the kill: QUENTIN LETTS on Prime Minister’s Questions

After Tuesday night’s voting dramas, the Commons yesterday had a sated, somnolent air. 

A coyote pack after a kill. PMQs passed without undue incident for the Prime Minister, as we can still call Theresa May. She had even recovered a few ounces of dignity.

There was a moment of rare personal disclosure when she spoke about the discomfort of having cervical smears. Now there’s something Anthony Eden never had to deal with.

The session had begun with Speaker Bercow drawing attention to the presence of a rape victim in the visitors’ gallery. 

Put it like this: Bercow did not underplay the matter. Jeremy Corbyn, seconds later, coated the Speaker in treacle for his ‘typical generosity’ towards the unfortunate woman.

PMQs passed without undue incident for Prime Minister Theresa May and she even recovered a few ounces of dignity

Most MPs could see, but not say, that Bercow was trying to polish his (much- damaged) feminist credentials and that Mr Corbyn was buttressing a Speaker who has done his side so many favours this week. 

A moment that should have been handled with delicacy was tarnished by self-serving political crassness. This place really can be unbelievably tacky sometimes.

One of the day’s chief events was Sam Gyimah’s first backbench speech since he quit as universities minister last week. 

Mr Gyimah (Con, E Surrey) spoke in the second of the five days of debate on Mrs May’s Brexit deal. 

He did so eloquently with minimal notes, prowling up and down as he explained why he had quit the Government rather than support Mrs May’s proposal.

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What made his speech powerful was its absence of fury and self-pity. One reason the deal was bad, he argued, was that it would simply extend the Brexit squabbling. 

Future British governments would find themselves banjaxed by Mrs May having given away our leverage. ‘We’ll pay any price to get out of the backstop,’ said Mr Gyimah. 

Down on the Government bench, Michael Gove – grumbling ‘that’s not true’ at Mr Gyimah – had stripped to his (pink) shirt.

A new dress code for the Commons? No. Mr Gove was simply rolling down his sleeves and inserting some cufflinks. The jacket went back on after that.

For once, Mrs May did not stall. For once she did not shake her head or shutter her eyes in the Commons

Mr Gyimah is sometimes spoken of as a Europhile but his speech yesterday was sufficiently rude about the EU to have John Redwood (Con, Wokingham) nodding. 

In the way it depicted the European Commission as unreasonable negotiators, slippery rule-benders and a threat to our national interest, it seemed to be heading for the conclusion that no-deal would be the best answer to Brexit.

But at the last minute Mr Gyimah called for a second referendum. This drew a few quavers of ‘no!’ but he had certainly been listened to with respect. Perhaps resigning can be a good career move.

George Osborne’s Evening Standard was by this time putting it about that ‘the Tory sensibles’ of the backbenches were going to grab hold of Brexit policy.

She seemed to finally accept that she has got to find a way of telling Brussels the backstop is a deal-breaker

By this, Mr Osborne meant his Europhile friends. But it has been striking in recent days that calm, sensible Tory backbenchers seem resolutely unimpressed by Mrs May’s deal, and from a Eurosceptic viewpoint.

Take Derek Thomas (Con, St Ives), an unshowy, constructive-minded chap from Cornwall. At PMQs yesterday he asked Mrs May to seek ‘early dialogue with Brussels’ if she fails to get her Brexit deal through the Commons.

For once, Mrs May did not stall. For once she did not shake her head or shutter her eyes or fall back on an over-used phrase in an attempt to blank one of her own MPs, as she so disastrously has done in the past.

She told decent Derek: ‘I recognise that concerns have been raised, particularly around the backstop, and that is an issue I am continuing to listen to colleagues on and am considering the way forward.’

Decode that. Put it through the de-May-ifier and in human terms it could mean something like this: ‘All right! I finally accept I’ve got to find a way of telling Brussels the backstop is a deal-breaker. Give me a few days.’

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