UK Prime Minister Theresa May has presided over the longest Parliamentary session for 366 years, yet has precious little to show for it.

The record holder - in the 1600s - enacted massive constitutional change, won a war and even executed a monarch.

But Brexit has paralysed legislation and left national crises, including social care, education and crime, unresolved.

Instead, MPs have been left discussing kittens and circus animals as they wait for a breakthrough on Britain's divorce from the European Union.

Advertisement

"Everything is log-jammed by this blasted Brexit," said Anna Soubry, a former Conservative minister who quit the party in February.

"Big issues are just not being looked at. Where are the proposals on social care? What are the Government's plans for unlocking the huge problem in relation to social mobility?"

May, who lost her parliamentary majority in a catastrophic snap general election two years ago, has avoided putting controversial bills to MPs. Between April 10 and May 14, there were no votes in the House of Commons as she negotiated with the Labour opposition to break the Brexit deadlock.

Forced to rely on the votes of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party after her electoral humiliation in 2017, May announced an unusual two-year Parliament with a slimmed down legislative programme consisting of 27 new bills, compared with about 20 in a typical year-long session.

But the planned legislation has largely dried up - with the glaring exception of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to implement the Brexit agreement she's brokered with the EU.

The House of Commons has rejected May's deal three times, and she's held off putting the WAB, as it's called, back to Parliament. The PM said yesterday that there'll be a vote in the week beginning June 3.

Work that's on hold includes the Treasury's planned spending review, which was intended to signal the end of a decade of austerity, and its green finance strategy, drawn up with the Business Department.

Brexit has "distracted from other pressing issues the Government would normally be focusing on," said Edwin Morgan, interim director general of the Institute of Directors, a business lobby group. "In other circumstances, you'd have much more scope to talk about other things" with ministers, including skills, regulation and infrastructure.


In the meantime, May is giving Parliament relatively uncontroversial issues to deal with. One government aide said departments have been asked to look to resuscitate old proposals that have fallen by the wayside.

On Tuesday, Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced a planned law to end puppy and kitten farming. Last week, there was a debate on the protection of wild animals in circuses - a provision that then Prime Minister David Cameron suggested there wasn't time for in 2016.

"There are only 19 of these animals left and it's a matter of primary legislation," Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of May's biggest Tory detractors, told LBC, referring to the circus legislation. "We're not dealing with the health service, we're not dealing with HS2. We're not dealing with education. Nothing is happening because there's a complete vacuum of leadership."

The Parliamentary session totted up its 301st day today, after eclipsing the 295-day 2010-2012 session that opened the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition. Only the 1640-1653 session during the English Civil War was longer, at 3322 days, according to the House of Commons Library.


That session took in the whole of the English Civil War, and the execution of Charles I in 1649, and only ended when Oliver Cromwell called in troops to clear the chamber, telling MPs "you have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately".

In terms of sitting hours, the current session is the longest since records began in 1831, clocking up 2658 hours last week. Yet with little to do, MPs sat for just three and a half hours on Tuesday.

The next day, stung by criticism about a month-long voting hiatus, the Government forced a vote on a Labour motion calling for ministers to publish documents relating to healthcare - even though Health Secretary Matt Hancock had already said he'd meet the demand.

"The Prime Minister seems to limp on from week to week," Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart told the House of Commons this month. "To call this a zombie government would be to show massive disrespect to the brain-eating living dead."

- Bloomberg