The Labour leader used each of his questions in a pre-budget PMQs to focus on Brexit, a subject he has largely avoided in recent months, seemingly because Labour’s position on the subject also remains some way from coherent and unified.
Corbyn asked May about issues such as the Irish border, workers’ rights, environmental protections, tax avoidance and post-Brexit immigration rules. She responded by saying Labour was in chaos over Brexit, and accused Corbyn of talking down Britain.
In a scathing final question to a noisy Commons, Corbyn said: “Seventeen months after the referendum they say there can be no hard [Irish] border but haven’t worked out how. They say they’ll protect workers’ rights then vote against it. They say they’ll protect environmental rights then vote against it. They promise action on tax avoidance but vote against it time and time again.
“Isn’t the truth this government has no energy, no agreed plan and no strategy to deliver a good Brexit for Britain?”
May responded by highlighting Labour’s splits on Brexit. She said: “The party in this Commons that has no clue on Brexit is the Labour party. But week in and week out the right honourable gentleman comes to this house and talks down our country and is pessimistic about our future.
“Let me tell him, I am optimistic. I am optimistic about our future. I’m optimistic about the success we can make of Brexit. I am optimistic about the well-paid jobs that will be created. I’m optimistic about the homes we will build. That’s Conservatives building a Britain fit for the future.”
Corbyn had begun by raising comments last week by the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who said Brexit-backing politicians had not “thought all this through” when it came to the Irish border.
Corbyn said: “Can the prime minister reassure him by clearly outlining the government’s policy on the Irish border?”
May responded: “We are very clear, first of all, that in relation to the movement of people, the common travel area will continue to operate as it has done since 1923, and on trade and movement of goods and services across the border, we will not see a hard border being introduced.”
Corbyn then noted comments by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, that he could guarantee free movement for bankers.
“Are there other groups to whom the prime minister believes freedom of movement should apply? Nurses, doctors, teachers, scientists, agricultural workers, care workers?” he asked.
May said this question had been asked the previous week by the Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable.
“We have been absolutely clear that we will be introducing new immigration rules. And as we introduce those immigration rules we will take account of the needs of the British economy in doing so,” she said.
May said Corbyn “can’t even decide if he wants to be in the customs union or out of it, in the single market or out of it – he needs to get his act together.”
This article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 22nd November 2017 13.28 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010