London, United Kingdom | AFP | Beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May batted off jokes about her weakened government Wednesday during her final parliamentary grilling before escaping for the summer recess.
After a string of terror attacks and an electoral humiliation last month, the Conservative leader opened prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons by noting the “particularly challenging year”.
Amid cabinet in-fighting and reports of plots to oust her, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took the opportunity to condemn her “divided” government while another MP mocked her as the “interim prime minister”.
A third MP made fun of May for having a “new-found empathy for those in insecure work”.
“I look along that front bench opposite, Mr Speaker, and I see a cabinet bickering and backbiting, while the economy gets weaker and people are pushed further into debt,” Corbyn said, to cheers from his MPs sitting behind him.
“This divided government is unable to give this country the leadership it so desperately needs now to deal with these issues.”
But he failed to land any serious blows, while exchanges between the two leaders over stalled public sector pay and rising living costs were well-rehearsed.
May hit back with a defence of the government’s economic record that drew an enthusiastic response from her own backbenchers.
Parliament holds its last session on Thursday before a six-week summer break, returning in September.
May was forced to “remind” ministers in her cabinet to keep their discussions private this week after a string of damaging leaks exposing splits over Brexit.
The second round of formal negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union is underway in Brussels.
“There is a need to show strength and unity as a country and that starts around the cabinet table,” May told colleagues at their weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
An influential Conservative lawmaker said May should sack ministers if they were plotting against each other and her, saying that ordinary MPs in the party supported her leadership.
“If the prime minister has to start removing secretaries of state because they are not focusing on their job, they are focusing on their own personal ambitions, so be it,” Charles Walker, vice chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, told BBC radio.
May was greatly weakened by the June 8 vote, which she called three years early only to lose her Conservative party’s majority in the Commons.
She now heads a minority government propped up by Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party.