Theresa May was barely a minute into her Brexit statement when a female voice on the Labour backbenches called out: “No change.”
It was the same message from Jeremy Corbyn when he rose to respond to the prime minister’s latest attempt to rescue her Brexit strategy.
“Nothing has changed,” he said. “This really does feel a bit like Groundhog Day.”
The PM was “going through the motions” and in “deep denial”, Mr Corbyn claimed.
The Labour leader also claimed the PM’s meetings with MPs were a “PR sham” and “phoney talks”.
But a Tory MP shouted at him: “You weren’t there!”
The prime minister’s statement was, however, entirely predictable. It was hardly a plan B. It was more like a restatement of plan A with a few minor tweaks.
She saved the best – the waiving of the £65 fee for EU citizens who want to stay in the UK – until last, a bit like a chancellor’s rabbit out of the hat at the end of a budget speech.
But that was it, really. Right from the beginning of her statement, she said no to ruling out “no-deal”, no to extending Article 50 and no to a second referendum.
Predictably, it was the Irish backstop on which she suggested she was prepared to move. And predictably, she said she would talk to the DUP and others about it this week before taking the concerns back to Brussels.
By “others” she almost certainly meant the group of seven ex-ministers she met in Downing Street last Thursday who said the issue preventing MPs from backing her deal was the Irish backstop.
That group – Iain Duncan Smith, David Davis, John Whittingdale, former Northern Ireland secretaries Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers, Steve Baker and Mark Francois – told her that if she could resolve that issue she could win MPs’ backing.
So it was significant that she told Boris Johnson – who was booed and hissed by some Labour MPs – that she was “exploring… the nature of any movement on the backstop that would secure the support of this House”.
Minutes later Sir Hugo Swire, a former Northern Ireland minister, told her that if she could get the necessary changes to the backstop, he was confident her deal would get through parliament.
If only it were so easy. Despite what the PM promised, many MPs are convinced that the EU – both Brussels chiefs Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk and the 27 leaders – will refuse to reopen negotiations on the backstop.
And her willingness to talk to and listen to her own eurosceptic backbenchers and the DUP has inevitably led some opposition leaders, such as the Lib Dems’ Vince Cable, to claim she is putting party interest before the national interest.
Hilary Benn, who chairs the Brexit select committee of MPs, repeated what he said after he met the PM last Thursday, when he claimed: “I am sorry to say while her door may have been open, her mind has remained closed.”
Later, during the Commons exchanges, Labour’s Pat McFadden asked the prime minister why she was opposed to a general election. She said it was not the right policy “at this time”.
That prompted yet another shout from the Labour backbenches: “That’s what you said last time!”
On a day when the prime minister’s plan B looked remarkably like her plan A, the pithy observations from what MPs call “a sedentary position” were – as they often are – spot on.
(c) Sky News 2019: Theresa May’s plan B for Brexit? It’s rather similar to plan A