PMQs: Keir Starmer grills Rishi Sunak on Norther Ireland protocol
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It was like one of those David Attenborough programs when the herd of wildebeest suddenly moves as one to cross the Serengeti. It is amazing to think though that just a little over 48 hours before at 2.30pm the Parliamentary week had begun and now to all intents and purposes it was finishing.
While it is true that MPs often have very busy lives in their constituencies you begin to winder whether their salaries should start to reflect the apparently part time nature of their jobs.
What is basically a two-day Parliament (although there was minor business on Thursday attended by a handful of MPs) is not what the people expect in the midst of a war and economic crisis.
In fact, one Labour MP did not even wait til Wednesday because the lack of a serious three line whip vote meant he could clear off on Tuesday.
And anyone who was around in PCH (the busiest place on the estate) on Monday morning would have been more likely to see tumbleweed than an MP.
What has happened?
The answer is simple: The Rishi Sunak government has happened. Or rather it has happened as little as possible.
Despite what is said about them most MPs are hardworking and like to keep busy but the lack of legislation or business coming before them is alarming – especially for the Tories.
Since the Autumn, the Sunak government appears to have been doing as little as possible.
But it is not as if there are not things to do.
One exasperated Conservative MP said: “We should not be sitting through subject debates by the Labour Party.
“The government has left incredibly important legislation on the shelf.”
Included in that is the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill passed by the Commons, blocked by the Lords but never retabled by Sunak.
It appears that details of a deal with the EU are to be published on Monday – when there is a three-line whip for Tory MPs to actually attend.
But if the deal is rejected by the DUP and Conservative MPs then, as Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have noted, they will need to push through this bill.
Many Tory MPs don’t understand why the government hasn’t done that already.
“It’s like they are afraid,” one Brexiteer Tory said.
But even worse is the so-called “Small Boats Bill” as it has been nicknamed.
Back in early January Mr Sunak promised to deliver the legislation which would enable immediate deportations of illegal immigrants.
He then doubled down and made it one of his five pledges.
But since then, nothing.
This week Conservative MPs had expected the Bill to be tabled with hundreds of illegal immigrants making the crossing small boats across the Channel each week.
Express.co.uk has been told that one Tory backbencher has informed the Chief Whip Simon Hart that he “will go on strike” until the legislation appears.
It means he will not take part in votes.
Another Conservative MP said: “It’s utterly ridiculous. We have hotels being crammed in our constituencies with these illegal migrants, there are now protests against it everywhere, the government promised action weeks ago and still nothing.”
Another Tory added: “We were told we were getting the Bill this week but nothing again.
“Just like when he was in the Treasury Sunak is prisoner to the Whitehall blob (of civil servants).”
A third said: “The civil servants are just playing a waiting game. They think we will lose the next election and are trying to delay until then.”
There is a theory though that n too many cases Mr Sunak wants to avoid a rebellion such as dropping housing and planning reform or legislation on wind farms.
But the lack of anything happening has led to questions about how long an election might be.
One Labour MP said: “It can’t go on like this. We can’t have months of inaction.
“You have to wonder whether Sunak will just go for it and call an election because of the empty agenda.”
Just before christmas a senior Downing Street source said that the tactic was to deliberately leave space “so people can ask questions of what Labour would do”.
When this was put to a Tory MP this week he pointed to the 20 plus poll lead and added: “Starmer seems to be filling the vacuum quite nicely.
“He’s even talking about policy and trying to steal our clothes.”
In a week where Sir Keir Starmer made an assault on blue wall Tory safe seats with a speech to the National Union of Farmers (NFU) and then talked about economic growth two dats later, this is a very serious point and one which could prove fatal to a “do little government.”
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