Sir Keir Starmer flapped his feet like a penguin doing the Charleston: HENRY DEEDES on a literally yawning chasm in the Commons
For once, Peter Bone (Con, Wellingborough) spoke for the entire nation yesterday when he emitted a mighty yawn during yet another Brexit debate.
It occurred shortly after 3.30pm. The Bone corpse was slumped idly on the green leather, one ear cocked, when suddenly there was a hydraulic craning of his neck.
His cheeks spread, his jaws parted and before long, his mouth was gaping so wide you could see his epiglottis dangling. Think Simba the lion delivering a thundering roar across the Serengeti.
The contagion across the House was instantaneous. The face of Bone’s colleague James Gray (Con, North Wilts) quickly resembled an imploding canister as he valiantly tussled with the inevitable.
Sir Keir (pictured) demanded to know when the Government would be publishing the legal advice on the proposed changes to the withdrawal agreement
Soon, Andrew Bowie (Con, West Aberdeenshire) was off too.
Angela Eagle (Lab, Wallasey) was next to relent. Before long, they were all at it.
Their boredom was prompted by an urgent question from Labour’s Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer on the subject driving us all loopy.
Sir Keir demanded to know when the Government would be publishing the legal advice on the proposed changes to the withdrawal agreement. It is an impressive mark of the former director of public prosecution’s threshold for the mind-numbing minutiae of this stuff that he can genuinely appear excited when putting such matters before the House.
At times, he flaps his feet against the floor like a penguin doing the Charleston. He also does that lawyerly thing of excitedly yelling in his nasal, queen hornet voice: ‘his words, Mr Speaker, his words!’ every few sentences.
Brexit minister Stephen Barclay was in the Netherlands, so we were lumbered with his number two James Duddridge, a capable enough fellow, albeit one unlikely to be treading the boards at the Palladium any time soon.
It’s always a fool’s errand when a minister is deputising and sure enough, Duddridge wasn’t in a position to say much at all. By the sounds of it, he hadn’t been privy to the legal advice himself. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson had her angry face on, scowling and jabbing her fingers. Next to her, Tom Brake (Lib Dem, Carshalton and Wallington) squabbled with Jim Shannon, (DUP, Strangford).
Interestingly, there was no sign of those rebel ex-Conservatives, Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke or Oliver Letwin. They rarely miss a chance to get elbows deep in all the legal mumbo jumbo.
Anna Soubry (Change UK, Broxtowe) in Dennis the Menace red and black stripes, gave one of her customary Brexit rants. Duddridge said he’d given up on Soubry since she clearly wasn’t going to back a deal in any form.
The Bone corpse was slumped idly on the green leather, one ear cocked, when suddenly there was a hydraulic craning of his neck
The Speaker, whose throat last Thursday was coarser than shredded wheat, has got his voice back, alas. Earlier, I’d witnessed him congratulate Therese Coffey on her debut at the dispatch box as Pensions Minister, but soon he returned to his snarky self.
Coming to Soubry’s aid, he sarcastically suggested she would be crestfallen at Duddridge’s remarks. Soubers pretended to wipe away tears. Why was the Speaker sticking up for Soubry? Usually, they can’t stand one another.
Then I realised Bercow was trying to belittle Duddridge, who once tabled a motion of no confidence in his speakership.
Turncoat Sarah Wollaston (Lib Dem, Totnes), who’d been cackling sycophantically at Bercow’s intervention, asked Duddridge if the Government had been taking ‘slippery pole’ lessons, a reference to the Prime Minister’s pole-dancing friend Jennifer Arcuri.
Groans all round. Duddridge criticised Wollaston for not submitting herself to a by-election after crossing the floor. ‘That’s slippery!’ he honked.
Barry Sheerman (Lab, Huddersfield) attempted to demean Duddridge by loftily claiming he’d never heard of him until half an hour ago. Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) shook his head as though telling creaky Barry to stop being an old fool.
At this point, Chuka Umunna (Lib Dem, Streatham) poked his nose around the door.
Pausing to inhale the soporific atmosphere around the House, his nostrils visibly prickled as he swiftly turned on his heels and sashayed off again.
Wise move, Chuka. Wise move.
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