Boris Johnson had barely begun speaking when the Opposition benches began bobbing up and down, shrieking and squawking like an aviary of demented cockatoos.
‘Will he give way? Will he give way? Will he give way?’
The Prime Minister was presenting his Internal Market Bill and for a moment it was as though we were back to 2019.
With Sir Keir Starmer forced into emergency isolation, it was left to ‘hell yeah’ Ed Miliband to make the Opposition’s case. Bet a few fist bumps were exchanged in Downing Street when that news broke
Each of the old gang were there: Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds C) Joanna Cherry (SNP, Edinburgh SW), Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, all desperately trying to intervene, their mouths wobbling, eyes popping, veins throbbing.
Good old Brexit. Nothing like it to send the House quite so doolally.
Tensions around the chamber were tight as catgut. Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’s admission last week that the Bill, which proposes changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, would break international law was causing disruptions on all sides. Some of the Government’s top legal brains had already fled for the hills.
Boris laid out his stall calmly. The Bill, he said, should be supported by anyone who cared about ‘the sovereignty and integrity of our United Kingdom’. Without the Bill, we could end up with a situation where the EU refused to list any of our agricultural products for sale anywhere in the EU.
The Government benches gurgled with indignation. ‘Shocking!’ they cried. Arch Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash (Con, Stone) making his first appearance since lockdown, curled his upper lip archly. You’d have thought someone had just slid a pot of ammonia under the old boy’s hooter.
The EU, Boris said, was threatening to ‘carve tariff borders across our own country and to divide our own land’. No Parliament could accept such an imposition as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.
‘You signed it!’ screamed eternal loudmouth Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda).
The PM had not been scheduled to open the debate. That task was originally awarded to Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
With the whiff of rebellion in the air, Boris probably felt it would look better if he presented the Bill himself.
With Sir Keir Starmer forced into emergency isolation, it was left to ‘hell yeah’ Ed Miliband to make the Opposition’s case.
Bet a few fist bumps were exchanged in Downing Street when that news broke.
Ed had been bursting for his chance, rocking back and forth excitedly and pumping his legs as he waited his turn. He was keener than a college leaver at his first job interview.
The Bill was not an argument of Leave versus Remain but ‘an argument about right versus wrong’, said Ed. Britain’s reputation for rule-making and not rule-breaking was one reason ‘we are so respected around the world’.
To give the former Labour leader his due, he was better than I thought he’d be, but he still debates the same way he goes at a bacon sandwich: awkwardly, without delicacy or guile.
Boris simply stared down at his lap shaking his head. On and on Ed honked, his quivering lips giving the despatch box a liberal soaking as he belted out lachrymose statements about Britain’s proud place in the world. ‘Magna carta… mother of all parliaments… rule of law’
He lacks the authority that comes naturally to orators, causing him to keep repeating phrases until he’s sure everyone has heard them.
He spent most of his speech speaking directly at the PM.
‘For a man who said he wants to get Brexit done this gets Brexit undone!’ he yelled. In a rather hokey piece of grandstanding, he goaded Boris to intervene and challenge him. Boris simply stared down at his lap shaking his head.
On and on Ed honked, his quivering lips giving the despatch box a liberal soaking as he belted out lachrymose statements about Britain’s proud place in the world. ‘Magna carta… mother of all parliaments… rule of law.’
The Bill, he said, was an admission that the Withdrawal Agreement on which Boris based his election victory wasn’t properly thought out. ‘What incompenten-th!’ he bellowed. What poor governan-th!’
Ed sat down, eyes darting left to right, pining for approval. Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, perched to his left, offered a thin smile. The dreaded Cherry clucked her approval from the SNP’s corner.
When Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing gently informed the House that some 101 members had all requested to speak, Boris took that as a cue to quietly make his exit. The House was in for a long old evening.