Angela Eagle put on an impressive performance at prime minister's questions (PMQs) as she took on top Tory George Osborne. The shadow first secretary of state stood in for Jeremy Corbyn for the House of Commons bout as the chancellor covered for David Cameron, who was meeting with the leaders of Poland and Romania as part of his EU renegotiation.
Eagle was able to exploit the Conservatives' split on the forthcoming referendum, which the PM has promised to hold before the end of 2017, during the exchange. The shadow business secretary mocked Cameron's talks with Brussels as "endless" and claimed taxpayers had to buy the Tory leader a plane because he was "jetting all over the place".
But Osborne, who had been tipped as a future Conservative leadership contender, hit back by attacking Corbyn's record. "Well, the good the news is that we have party leader who is respected abroad," the first secretary of state declared, to cheers from the Conservative benches.
Osborne added: "The prime minister is in Central and Eastern Europe because we are fighting for a better deal from Europe, something that would never have happened if there had been a Labour government."
But Eagle stuck on the uncomfortable subject for the Tories as some of the party's MPs and ministers are expected to campaign for a Brexit ahead of the referendum, while Cameron is predicted to support the remain camp. "Well, I have to say that many of his own backbenchers are pretty unimpressed in how it's going," the Labour spokesperson replied.
"Now, the chancellor is well-known for cultivating his own backbenches – and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that – so can I ask him the question his own side want answering? Given that the prime minister has pre-resigned, does he really aspire to be Britain's first post-EU prime minister?"
Eagle's grilling of Osborne was cheered on by her colleagues. However, the chancellor was able to seize upon Labour's row over pro-Corbyn pressure group Momentum for a comeback. "Most opposition parties are trying to get Momentum, they [Labour] are trying to get rid of it," he quipped.
The encounter, with lots of cheering and the usual parliamentary theatrics, provided the Commons with some pantomime ahead of Christmas and both Osborne and Eagle provided assured performances.