Treasury minister Liz Truss, a former Remainer, said that the proposed £50billion EU withdrawal bill was a slight pay off compared with remaining in the EU, as the Brexit bill dominated Prime Minister’s Questions
Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions was so low-grade, I will mention it only at the bottom of this sketch. The more significant debate in the Commons came later when MPs discussed the rumoured cost of our EU withdrawal deal.
Some say Mrs May is preparing to hand over £50billion. This was an outrageous sum, agreed plenty of MPs from both In and Out camps.
The one consolation offered by Treasury minister Liz Truss was that we would be paying even more to Brussels if we stayed in the ruddy EU. And she used to be a Remainer!
The session was provoked by an Urgent Question from Blairite Chris Leslie (Nottingham E). Remainer Mr Leslie felt the reported exit sum just showed we should never have voted to leave in the first place.
Other Europhiles such as Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton SE) and Chris Bryant (Rhondda) pretty much took that view. Miss Truss said there was no point trying to re-fight the lost referendum. Blairites should ‘get with the programme’ and support the nation in trying to get a decent trade agreement from Juncker & Co.
When Remain MPs demanded more detail about the exit payment, Miss Truss refused to help. That would ‘cut across’ the continuing negotiation.
The Labour front bench had little to say on the matter.
Leave supporter Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover) said his firmly pro-Brexit constituents would think it wicked to hand over billions to the Europeans when we could spend that money on the NHS and our own social care.
Mr Skinner was supported by Philip Davies (Con, Shipley) and Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough). Mr Bone added Defence to the list of causes that would be more deserving of the cash.
Mr Davies said the Government should produce an ‘itemised account of what we are paying for’. Dream on, Philip! The EU hasn’t produced certified accounts for years. But it would be lovely to know how much of this Danegeld will be spent on the Kinnock family’s pension pot.
First secretary of state Damian Green was faced with references to ongoing sexual harassment allegations as he stepped in for Theresa May during Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Con, NE Somerset) talked of ‘growing concern that Her Majesty’s Government is dancing to the tune of the European Commission’. He wanted not a penny paid until we had a full deal on trade. Robert Halfon (Con, Harlow) hinted we should tell the EU to get stuffed. A couple of Brexiteers took a marginally more upbeat tone. Owen Paterson (Con, N Shropshire) said independent Britain was set to flourish and boom if it secured a decent trade deal without the EU’s shackles. He wanted ‘to cheer up the miseries on the far side of the Chamber’. This only made the Blairites look even glummer.
Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest W) hoped we would not have to pay more than was legally obliged but ‘it’s a bargain against the cost of staying in’.
At last, the country is starting to realise how much the EU has been costing us for years. In all the time I have been a parliamentary sketchwriter, I do not recall a single Urgent Question or serious vote on the annual handing-over of billions to Brussels. It always just went through on the nod, Government MPs from the ruling party of the day meekly trooping through the lobbies at the behest of the Whips. Where were the spending-conscious Blairites then?
Euroloony Kenneth Clarke (Con, Rushcliffe) claimed all those billions of pounds over the years were spent well because they secured access to the EU’s markets. Spent well? They were certainly spent on the sly. Spent by an elite that thought it could fool the electorate. Now the appalling cost of EU membership is clear. All Juncker & his mates want is our moolah.
Oh yes, Deputy PMQs. It was taken by Damian Green because Theresa May was abroad. He was terrible. All anyone could think about was his computer and the pornography some allege was found on it. A couple of MPs alluded to that in a nudge-nudge way. It was all a bit lowering.