Jeremy Corbyn has used the first prime minister’s questions after the summer recess to attack Theresa May over the damage a no-deal Brexit could cause, calling on her to abandon he “dead” Chequers plan.
In sometimes testy exchanges, during which the prime minister said the Labour leader should be “ashamed of himself” over his dealings with antisemitism in the party, Corbyn used all his questions to focus on what he said was chaos in Brexit plans.
He asked May whether she agreed with the view of Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, that a no-deal was now more likely than a deal, and with Philip Hammond, the chancellor, that such an outcome would hit economic growth and force the Treasury to borrow an extra £80bn.
She responded: “We are continuing to do what we have always been doing, which is working to get a good deal with the European Union for our future relationship once we have left. But it is entirely right and proper that we should prepare for all eventualities, because we haven’t come to the end of the negotiations.”
Asking May to outline any possible benefits of no deal, Corbyn said: “A majority of people might have voted to leave, but they expected the negotiations to be handled competently, and they certainly are not.”
He added: “I say to the prime minister quite simply this: she can’t keep dancing round all the issues.”
This prompted laughter from many MPs, including some on the Labour benches – seemingly owing to the reference to May’s much-reported dancing on her trip to Africa last week, as well as perhaps the fact that Corbyn has been accused of fudging heavily on the subject.
The Labour leader ended: “The prime minister has repeatedly said that no deal is better than a bad deal. But no deal is a bad deal, and everyone from the CBI to the TUC, to her own chancellor, are telling her the same thing.
“The Chequers proposal is dead – already ripped apart by her own MPs. When will the prime minister publish a real plan that survives contact with her cabinet and with reality? Those are, of course, two very separate concepts.”
May responded only by repeating her assertion that it was correct to plan for a no-deal departure.
She also sought to pin down Corbyn over the antisemitism row, beginning her comments by asking the Labour leader to apologise for comments he made to a conference in 2013.
“When the leader of the Labour party stands up he should apologise for saying that Jewish people who have lived in this country their whole lives do not understand English irony,” she said.
In her final commentsMay referred to the decision by Labour’s national executive to add a clarification on criticising Israel in the party’s adoption in full of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
She said: “He’s trying to change his party, so antisemites can call the creation of Israel racist. And he should be ashamed of himself.”