What a curious PMQs. The Prime Minister did not look worried. Nor did she look unworried in the manner of someone who knows the game is over and is demob happy.
Theresa May seemed to think things are going rather well, and that she will be able to sell her EU deal, because it exceeds people’s low expectations, and because voting it down would be worse.
Seema Kennedy, her Parliamentary Private Secretary, who sits behind her at PMQs with a file of papers and makes notes, looked as keen and helpful as ever, and as convinced as ever that the team effort to support the Prime Minister is worthwhile.
Nigel Dodds, Commons leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, looked tense and uncomfortable, his leg jiggling up and down in a manner suggestive of extreme concern. To look at him, one would say either that he has not yet managed to make up his mind, or else that he expects to have to take a course of action – backing the Prime Minister? – which is going to cause him and his friends a great deal of pain.
When Jeremy Corbyn asserted, in the course of a random series of pre-scripted questions which failed to ruffle the Prime Minister’s composure, that we shall have “less say over our laws”. Dodds uttered a low “Hear, hear”. He is not a happy man.
But the Tory benches, which were full, did not convey the same sense of tension. If a revolution is brewing there, it was well concealed. Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough) told her “you are not delivering the Brexit people voted for”, and claimed her draft deal will “lose the support of many Tory MPs and millions of voters across the country”.
Bone may be right, yet there was no feeling in the Chamber that he was articulating what many Tory MPs think. This was not a Norway debate, with May as a latter-day Neville Chamberlain completing misjudging the mood of the House.
Kenneth Clarke, the Father of the House, wanted to be assured that instead of the “swirl of rumours” about the deal, if it is agreed by the Cabinet, a statement about it will very soon be made to the House of Commons, thus re-establishing parliamentary sovereignty.
He added: “I wish the Prime Minister well in obtaining a parliamentary majority for some course of action in the future which is in the national interest” – a wonderfully vague formula, which rather implied that in his view, the deal may require modification.
Iain Duncan Smith, a key Brexiteer, was called, but said he was “not going to be asking about Brexit…for now.” He instead asked about Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. The Prime Minister said the Culture Secretary would be updating the House on that question later today.
Julia Lopez (Con, Hornchurch and Upminster) asked whether this deal with the EU would prevent the UK from doing free-trade deals with other countries, as the New Zealander, Sir Lockwood Smith, has warned.
May responded in her blandest tone that this is not the case and “we will have an independent trade policy”.
The Prime Minister did not look as if she expected to be confronted, within hours, by Cabinet resignations and an avalanche of protests which will sweep her out of office. She seemed to think she has got a deal she can sell. We shall quite soon know whether she is deluding herself.