Queen’s speech debate: Corbyn castigates ‘out of ideas’ government
Jeremy Corbyn criticises Theresa May’s ‘threadbare’ legislative programme – video
Theresa May’s muted reception in the House of Commons after the Queen’s speech drew sharp contrast with roars of approval from opposition benches for Jeremy Corbyn, though Tory MPs tore into the Labour leader for the party’s position on Brexit.
The tone in the House of Commons chamber after the Queen’s speech chimed with the changing balance of power in the Commons, with a low-key prime minister repeatedly giving way for contributions from others and apologising for the government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire.
May said the official response to the west London blaze, which killed at least 79 people, was not good enough. “As prime minister I apologise for that failure, and as prime minister I’ve taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right,” she said.
Corbyn, in contrast, was more loudly cheered by his backbenchers than was usual before the election. They saw him soundly castigate what be called “a government that has lost its majority and apparently run out of ideas altogether”.
The traditional debate format saw formalities begin with two addresses from backbenchers rather than May or Corbyn – speeches that took in both serious matters and carefully written one-liners.
Opening the debate, Ricard Benyon, the Conservative MP chosen to move the loyal address, noted the legacy of Jo Cox and called for greater cross-party consensus in parliament in a speech that also included a series of self-deprecating jokes.
Benyon, the MP for Newbury and one of the wealthiest MPs, mocked his affluent constituency, saying: “Deprivation in west Berkshire is when Waitrose runs out of balsamic vinegar.” He also joked that having ousted an old Etonian Lib Dem out of the Newbury seat “some members consider me a working class hero”.
May apologises for government response to Grenfell Tower fire – video
He was seconded by Kwasi Kwarteng, who joked about the difficulties of forming a government, which he said were detailed in the “highly objective, scrupulously fair pages of the Evening Standard” – edited by the former chancellor George Osborne, one of May’s harshest critics.
Corbyn’s speech, which lasted over half an hour, saw the Labour leader call repeatedly for an end to austerity and higher pay for public sector workers as he presented his party as “a government in waiting”.
While at times mocking May – several times he referred to lengthy talks with the Democratic Unionists as a “coalition of chaos” – Corbyn also took interventions from several Labour MPs to discuss fire safety in tower blocks in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.
During his speech Conservative backbenchers shouted at Corbyn to take more interventions from MPs. Those who were given a chance to speak tackled Corbyn on his party’s attitude to Brexit, challenging Labour to rule out a second referendum, which he said he had already done.
During May’s speech, Labour MPs heckled the prime minister with shouts of “resign”. Labour’s Kevin Brennan called May the “interim prime minister”, asking how she could negotiate Brexit with the EU if she could not clinch a confidence and supply agreement with 10 DUP MPs to acquire a majority.
Though he took far fewer interventions, Corbyn was also disrupted by Tory backbenchers, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, who raised a point of order with the Speaker, John Bercow, about the length of the Labour leader’s speech.
“He said about 10 minutes ago ‘in conclusion’,’” Rees-Mogg joked. “I fear as time goes past he may be in danger of inadvertently having misled the House.”
The jibe earned Rees-Mogg a rap from Bercow, who said it was not disorderly conduct by Corbyn.