The political turmoil brought about following the result of the EU Referendum — David Cameron announcing his decision to quit, Jeremy Corbyn losing a vote of no confidence — leaves us in very new waters.
Prime Minister's Questions is a key part of democracy and probably the best-known event in the House of Commons, owing to its theatricality. But with a PM who's quitting, and a Leader of the Opposition facing the boot, what's going to happen tomorrow?
Is PMQs happening on Wednesday?
Yes. The UK still has a government, and holding it to account is still Parliament’s job.
Who will be there? Will it be half empty? Or full to the rafters?
PMQs is always the main showpiece event of the week in Parliament, with more MPs normally attending than there are seats available. If anything, it’ll be even better attended than usual this week, with Leave campaign MPs keen to crow over the referendum result, Remainers hoping to throw spanners into the works and different factions from both main parties looking to cheer or jeer the various leadership hopefuls.
Will Cameron and Corbyn be there?
Probably. David Cameron is still Prime Minister and will stay in that role until the Conservative Party has elected a new leader – which, as their ‘1922 committee’ of backbenchers has now confirmed, will happen by 2 September.
Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is also facing some difficulties within his party and lost a vote of confidence brought by a large number of his own MPs. Corbyn’s office is expecting to have to contest another leadership election and this could mean we end up in the slightly farcical position of two potentially soon to be unemployed party leaders debating the UK’s future.
What questions will be asked?
One of the attractions of PMQs is that, unlike for Departmental Questions answered by other ministers throughout the week, the Prime Minister has no advance warning of what questions he is going to be asked – although this week he can probably make a fairly reliable educated guess.
MPs will, of course, be seeking clarification over exactly how the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is likely to take shape, although Cameron has already said that he plans to leave that to his successor.
Corbyn, meanwhile, will almost certainly want to shift the focus away from his own perceived failings on the referendum campaign back onto the Conservatives who, after all, did allow the referendum to happen in the first place.
Labour MPs will inevitably look to accuse Cameron of putting short term political gain ahead of the national interest and of putting the UK’s economy and jobs at risk. Further questions are also likely to be asked about the truth (or otherwise) of various specific claims made by the Leave campaign ahead of last week’s vote.
While one might be forgiven for having forgotten that the EU is not the only issue of current national importance, we may – if we are lucky – even get a question or two on something else, like the NHS or a constituency case. The main focus, however, is likely to be on recriminations over the referendum outcome and, if a Labour leadership election is indeed triggered, the failure of Jeremy Corbyn to command the confidence of his colleagues in Parliament.
Is there a Shadow Cabinet to ask questions?
Yes, although barely. The majority of Labour’s front bench has resigned following reports of Corbyn’s various alleged attempts to undermine or sabotage the Remain campaign behind the scenes while maintaining a fairly supportive public-facing position. This has raised doubts over what has been one of the chief sources of the Labour leader’s appeal – his perceived authenticity and decency.
Replacement appointments have been made after each resignation but Corbyn has been fast running out of colleagues to call on, while his own deputy has also questioned his ability to lead the party into a predicted snap general election this winter.
Will there be a summer break this year?
Yes. Parliament generally only sits when it is passing laws, and if one or both of the main parties are in the midst of a leadership election then legislation would very much be put on the back burner.
The summer ‘break’, in fact, is something of a misnomer — there are several recesses throughout the Parliamentary year which, among other things, give MPs the chance to spend time working and meeting people in the constituencies they are supposed to represent.