Theresa May gives Boris Johnson frosty welcome at PMQs
Theresa May has left Downing Street for the final time saying she hoped for a Brexit “that works for the whole United Kingdom”, a parting remark that some will see as a coded message to her successor, Boris Johnson.
Standing alongside her husband, Philip, outside the door to No 10 with staff and aides watching, May gave a brief farewell address before heading off in a motorcade to see the Queen.
“I am about to go to Buckingham Palace to tender my resignation to Her Majesty the Queen and to advise her to ask Boris Johnson to form a new administration,” May began. “I repeat my warm congratulations to Boris on winning the Conservative leadership election.”
Hailing her own record, May said: “Of course, much remains to be done – the immediate priority being to complete our exit from the European Union in a way that works for the whole United Kingdom.”
Later during the speech, a protester outside the gates of Downing Street delivered a loud cry of “Stop Brexit!”, prompting May to pause and Philip to say, quietly, “That wasn’t me.”
Earlier, during May’s last duty in the Commons as PM she used prime minister’s questions to give a distinctly lukewarm endorsement of Johnson, while signing off by suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn should follow her lead and step down as Labour leader.
The first question, from the Labour backbencher Ruth Cadbury, asked May about handing over to “a man who among many things is happy to demonise Muslims, is prepared to chuck our loyal public servants and diplomats under a bus, and promises to sell our country out to Donald Trump and his friends”.
May’s reply rejected the criticisms but pointedly did not praise Johnson or his work under her as foreign secretary.
She said: “I am pleased to hand over to an incoming leader of the Conservative party and prime minister, who I worked with when he was in my cabinet, and who is committed as a Conservative who stood on a Conservative manifesto in 2017 to delivering on the vote of the British people in 2016 and to delivering a bright future for this country.”
Later in the session, responding to Corbyn’s final question, May started on what appeared to be a tribute to the Labour leader, saying that while they were “very different people and very different politicians” they both had a fundamental commitment to constituents.
But she added, to loud Conservative cheers: “Perhaps I could finish my exchanges with him by saying this: as a party leader who has accepted that her time was up, perhaps the time is now for him to do the same.”
After more than an hour of questions by Corbyn and backbenchers – believed to be the longest PMQs on record – May said that the work of MPs was “the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy and our liberty”.
Her voice breaking, she finished: “And each one of us, wherever we sit, whatever we stand for, can take pride in that. And that duty to serve my constituents, will remain my greatest motivation.”
May then left the chamber to a standing ovation from Conservative MPs and a few others such as the DUP.
While Corbyn began his questions by paying tribute to what he called May’s “sense of public duty”, the pair had an often bad-tempered exchange over her record in office.
The Labour leader condemned May for overseeing increases in poverty, crime, NHS waiting lists, school class sizes, food-bank use and homelessness. May countered by saying her government had improved schools and boosted employment.
In an exchange on Brexit, May accused Corbyn of “playing party politics” by refusing to vote for her deal. He responded by condemning the prospect of Johnson taking over the departure process.
Corbyn said: “We’ve had three years of bungled negotiations, and we now have the spectacle of a prime minister coming into office with no electoral mandate, looking for a Brexit deal that has been ruled out by the European Union, or in the case of no deal, ruled out by the majority of this house, and by anyone that understands the dangers to the British economy of no deal.”