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Have Labour stumbled on a cunning new excuse for blocking an election?

Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, spoke for Labour in a Commons debate about ‘Britain’s place in the world’ Credit: PA Wire

Until a few years ago, most people were probably pretty much agreed about Britain’s place in the world. It seemed fairly straightforward. Up a bit from France, just round the corner from Holland, you can’t miss it. 

Since the 2016 referendum, however, the question has taken on a new, much deeper meaning, and caused seemingly endless squabbling. Politically, we’ve turned into a family from the 1980s who have got lost on a road trip: the parents bickering furiously over the map, while the children in the back drone, “Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet?”

Then again, at least parents on 1980s road trips knew where they wanted to end up. MPs can’t even agree on that. On Tuesday in the Commons they actually held a debate entitled “Britain’s Place in the World”. Naturally they spent most of it arguing about Brexit.

From time to time, they did manage to break temporarily free of that subject’s miserable grip, and discuss other aspects of global affairs. There was a chunk about international aid, and some back-and-forth about Britain’s involvement in the international intelligence partnership known as Five Eyes. (The thing no one ever explains about Five Eyes: since it’s got five members, surely it should be called Ten Eyes.) 

There was also a brief row about Venezuela. Alok Sharma, a Tory minister, suggested that this “despotic” regime was Jeremy Corbyn’s “blueprint for Britain”. In response, Labour’s Emily Thornberry shouted a word that rhymes with pollocks. A male Tory MP claimed that for a woman to use this word as an insult was “sexist”. Ms Thornberry must have been tempted to shout the word again, but managed to refrain.

Soon enough, though, we were back on to Brexit. In truth, the exchanges felt not only tired but irrelevant, because the real action was happening 200 miles away, in Brussels. MPs were aware of strong rumours that a Brexit deal was close.

Still, that didn’t stop Remainers mocking the Government. Stephen Gethins (SNP, NE Fife) quoted an apology that had recently been printed in Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper. Six months earlier, the newspaper had stated that Britain’s handling of Brexit couldn’t get any more shambolic. It now recognised its error.

At any rate, Tuesday's debate did at least reveal one thing: Labour may accidentally have stumbled upon a new excuse for blocking a general election. Sir Hugo Swire (Con, East Devon) said an election was needed as soon as possible. Sir Keir Starmer frowned. There had only just been a Queen’s Speech, he said – and a Queen’s Speech meant the start of a new parliamentary session. 

You can see where this logic could potentially lead. Since holding a snap election would mean the abrupt end of this new parliamentary session, the Queen’s Speech would have been a complete waste of Her Majesty’s time. 

So there you have it: a perfect new excuse for Labour. If they refuse an election, it’s only because they don’t want to hurt the Queen’s feelings.