MPs on election footing as the battle for Brexit begins

Theresa May will stay out of leaders’ debate, while opposition MPs will fight their corners

British prime minister Theresa May:  The opposition has accused her of breaking her word on everything from Brexit to calling an early election. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP/Getty Images

British prime minister Theresa May: The opposition has accused her of breaking her word on everything from Brexit to calling an early election. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP/Getty Images

 

For much of Wednesday’s debate in the House of Commons to authorise an early general election, MPs had their heads down, peering into their phones. It was not for lack of interest in a motion which will ensure that some of them will be seeking new opportunities within weeks.

But while they were debating, political news was breaking in cascades outside Westminster. During prime minister’s questions, just before the election debate, former chancellor George Osborne announced that he was leaving parliament “for now”. Osborne, who has five other jobs as well as a large family fortune, gave the scoop to the Evening Standard, where he is the new editor, although he missed the deadline for the print edition.

In an interview with the BBC later, he hinted that in his new role, he could become a thorn in the side of Theresa May, who sacked him when she became prime minister.

“Without fear or favour we will speak for London. And also speak for the values that I have espoused as a chancellor and as a member of parliament for 16 years, which are the openness, the tolerance, the diversity that I think makes Britain a great country. That’s what I’ve fought for all my life and for now I’m not going to be fighting for those things in the House of Commons. I will be fighting for them in the seat of a great British newspaper,” he said.

Leaders’ debate

MPs were also excited by the news that ITV will go ahead with a leaders’ debate, despite May’s confirmation on Wednesday that she will not take part in any. The SNP’s Angus Robertson shared the news with the house, using it to taunt the prime minister.

“It is unsustainable in the multimedia age of the 21st century to go to the country but not debate with the leaders of the other parties. The notion that the UK prime minister might be empty-chaired because she was not prepared to stand up for her arguments is just not sustainable,” he said.

Although the outcome of the vote was never in doubt, MPs used the debate to make party political points and to attack whichever party represents the greatest threat in their constituency. The opposition accused May, who presents herself as the straightest of arrows, of breaking her word on everything from Brexit to calling an early election.

Rattled

The prime minister shrugged when Jeremy Corbyn chose that line of attack during prime minister’s questions but she looked rattled when Labour’s Yvette Cooper made the point more eloquently.

“The prime minister yesterday said she was calling a general election because parliament was blocking Brexit. But three-quarters of MPs and two-thirds of the Lords voted for article 50 – so that’s not true, is it? A month ago she told her official spokesman to rule out an early general election, and that wasn’t true either, was it? She wants us to believe she is a woman of her word. Isn’t the truth that we cannot believe a single word she says?” she said.

As Cooper sat down to cheers from the Labour benches, a Conservative MP accused her of making a leadership pitch. If she was, it was a good one.