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HENRY DEEDES watches Michael Gove’s deputy giving Parliament a Brexit update 

Good grief, the Commons was tense yesterday. Tauter than the strings on a well-tuned ukulele.

With Brexit trade talks hanging by the flossiest of threads over in Brussels, the House had that subdued air of a hospital waiting room.

As each hour passed, the atmosphere grew antsier. Jokes and jibes were in short supply.

Penny Mordaunt was answering urgent questions on Brexit deal negotiations in Parliament on Monday

What better moment, then, for Labour’s Rachel Reeves to table an Urgent Question on how those negotiations were going.

As timings go, it was bit like demanding an update from a round-the-world yachting crew, just as it entered a particularly nasty squall around the Cape of Good Hope.

Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove had rushed to Brussels for ‘crunch’ talks (are there any other kind?) with EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic.

So we got his sturdy, though oddly humourless, deputy Penny Mordaunt instead.

Michael Gove arrived at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday for Brexit trade negotiation talks with EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic

Michael Gove arrived at the EU headquarters in Brussels on Monday for Brexit trade negotiation talks with EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic

Miss Mordaunt entered the chamber shortly after 3.30pm, her wonderfully windswept hair flailing several yards behind her. Shades of Julie Christie in Far From The Madding Crowd.

She seemed to have acquired a new pair of spectacles, which she occasionally whipped off with a rococo flourish.

We can be sure that old roué and former EC president Jean-Claude Juncker would have preferred dealing with Penny during last year’s talks.

Negotiations were at a ‘critical moment’, Miss Mordaunt announced. Yet unfortunately, ‘familiar differences remain’ over fishing rights and the so-called ‘level playing field’ provisions.

Yes, yes, and Michel Barnier is a vain old booby. Tell us something we didn’t know, Penny.

Penny Mordaunt entered the chamber shortly after 3.30pm, her wonderfully windswept hair flailing several yards behind her. She seemed to have acquired a new pair of spectacles, which she occasionally whipped off with a rococo flourish, writes Henry Deedes

Penny Mordaunt entered the chamber shortly after 3.30pm, her wonderfully windswept hair flailing several yards behind her. She seemed to have acquired a new pair of spectacles, which she occasionally whipped off with a rococo flourish, writes Henry Deedes

Good grief, the Commons was tense yesterday. Tauter than the strings on a well-tuned ukulele.

 Good grief, the Commons was tense yesterday. Tauter than the strings on a well-tuned ukulele.

She insisted a Brexit deal would only happen if it meant taking back control of the UK’s ‘laws, trade and waters’. From behind, Tory elders emitted a few baritone ‘yer yers’ and patted their tummies in approval.

Miss Reeves was a purple-wrapped bundle of infected rage. Her teeth were clenched; her eyes narrowed coldly like a python. The volume on that railway tannoy voice of hers was whacked up to 11. Wowee she was loud!

‘A failure of statesmanship’ was how she described a No Deal scenario. She had a dig at Foreign Office minister James Cleverly, who earlier in the day said Boris’s ‘oven ready’ Brexit deal had already been delivered.

La Reeves threw her arms out wide and swivelled toward her colleagues. ‘In that case, he must have delivered it to the wrong address,’ she chuntered awkwardly.

A duff gag coming from any other MP. But on the Reeves Richter scale it should probably count as a thigh slapper.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves was a purple-wrapped bundle of infected rage. Her teeth were clenched; her eyes narrowed coldly like a python.  (file photo)

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves was a purple-wrapped bundle of infected rage. Her teeth were clenched; her eyes narrowed coldly like a python.  (file photo) 

North of the border, the SNP’s Pete Wishart had another of his gargantuan moans.

Whenever Mr Wishart’s face pops up on the screen from his Perthshire lair, it can only be moments before his computer screen is spattered with spittle-flecked fury.

It wasn’t just that Boris’s deal wasn’t oven ready, it was a ‘barely defrosted turkey’, he said.

Mordaunt sternly adjusted those specs, before sighing: ‘Well, he really has surpassed himself today.’

The message from the Tory benches was for Boris to stand firm. Iain Duncan Smith (Con, Chingford) announced the PM would ‘always have this side of the House behind him’. Hmm. Let’s see if that pledge holds firm over the next few months.

Fib of the day came from Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds C) who wished the government negotiators the best of luck.

Yeah right. Arch-Remainer Hilary’s just itching to see it all go up in flames.

Fib of the day came from Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds C) who wished the government negotiators the best of luck (file photo)

Fib of the day came from Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds C) who wished the government negotiators the best of luck (file photo)

Later, MPs debated the UK Internal Market Bill. That’s the so-called ‘safety net’ should trade talks fail which the Lords threw out last month.

Making the Government’s opening arguments was Deputy Business Secretary Paul Scully. (No, me neither.) The whole day had a rather B-team flavour to it, I’m afraid.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband was sent out to open the batting for the opposition. Ed was revved. Ed was pumped. He’d got himself spruced especially for the occasion. Bright purple tie. Neatly pressed suit. Even a spivvy new haircut.

He gave an excitable speech, so much so that he kept getting ahead of himself, stumbling over his words.

He taunted the Government over the high-profile Tory peers who opposed the Bill. Lord Lamont, Lord Howard.

Even the Duke of Wellington. By then, most of the chamber had departed to seek signs of white smoke from Brussels. We’re in for a tense week.


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