Jokes And News As Green And Thornberry Spar At Non-PMQs


Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons is often a bore when the big beasts are away, with stand-ins unaccustomed to the spotlight playing it safe to avoid committing any howlers.

But the bout between Damian Green and Emily Thornberry was not one of those yawnathons, with incidents, jokes and even snippets of news to delight the avid PMQs-watcher.

Mr Green was standing in for Theresa May for the first time since his appointment as First Secretary of State - and effective deputy prime minister - as the PM was attending a welcome ceremony for the King of Spain on Horse Guards Parade.

By convention, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn also stayed away rather than pitching himself against an opponent below the rank of leader.

Here are some of the highlights from the non-PM's Questions:

:: Ms Thornberry set the political world a puzzle as she noted that Mr Green is the 16th Tory to appear at the despatch box for PMQs since he entered Parliament in 1997, challenging him to name the others by the end of the 30-minute session. He conceded he might have to deliver his answer in the tea-room later.

:: Mr Green attempted a jibe at Labour by saying there would be ministers of both sexes in the Tory PMQs list "because we of course elect women leaders". But Ms Thornberry hit back by pointing out that three Labour women have taken part in the last two years, while Conservatives have managed just three women in 20 years, with the last one before Mrs May coming 16 years ago.

:: The House was united in celebrating the performances of Johanna Konta at Wimbledon and the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand, though in the case of the rugby side, Mr Green said it was "a particularly British thing to do to celebrate a drawn series".

:: Dressed in bright Labour red, Ms Thornberry ditched Mr Corbyn's practice of reading out questions from voters and instead went for a vicious dissection of Tory ministers' commentary on Brexit, demanding to know "Are ministers just making it up as they go along?"

:: Spotting David Davis sniggering on the Tory front bench as she put the boot in to Boris Johnson, the shadow foreign secretary sparked hilarity around the House by warning: "The Brexit Secretary might be laughing, but I'm turning to him next."

:: Ms Thornberry put the knife in over Mrs May's perilous post-election grip on the Tory leadership, telling MPs that along with Mr Green there were "plenty of other people on the front bench who'd love the opportunity to audition as Prime Minister".

:: Mr Green did not miss the opportunity to remind voters of Labour's divisions over nuclear weapons, saying that while Corbyn's party has had "nine different plans" on Europe, "they have been consistently in favour of unilateral disarmament and they don't only apply that in military matters, they clearly apply it in matters of negotiation on Britain's future prosperity as well".

:: He brushed off remarks about Mrs May's precarious position, reminding Ms Thornberry that the Conservatives "got more votes and more seats" than Labour on June 8 "and won the election".

:: Following Mrs May's speech on Tuesday appealing for co-operation from opposition parties, Ms Thornberry said that the First Secretary of State appeared not to have "got the Prime Minister's memo". She told Mr Green: "You're supposed to be building consensus, man."

:: Mr Green dismissed as "scaremongering" claims that cancer patients could be affected by the UK leaving Euratom after Brexit, saying that the import or export of medical radio isotopes is not subject to any particular Euratom licensing requirements.

:: After hearing about the wait for a heart transplant endured by nine-year-old Max Johnson - whose parents were in the public gallery - Mr Green held out hope for reforms to the donation system, telling MPs that "there is more that can be done" to increase the number of organs available.

:: Mr Green committed the faux pas of referring to the shadow education secretary as a "spokesman", prompting Angela Rayner to shout across the chamber: "I'm a woman not a man."

:: Ms Thornberry likened Newton Abbot MP Anne Marie Morris to former BNP leader Nick Griffin after she was suspended from the Tory parliamentary party for describing the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal as "the real n***** in the woodpile".

:: Mr Green took a swipe at Tim Farron as he made what may be his last question as Liberal Democrat leader, telling him he was glad to see the party was joining a Government drive to find jobs for "older people" - a reference to his likely replacement, 74-year-old Sir Vince Cable.

:: Labour backbencher Toby Perkins pointed out that, on the day after her first anniversary as Tory leader, Mrs May for the first time no longer features on the front page of the party's website, saying she had gone "from the next Iron Lady to The Lady Vanishes".

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