Cameron and Merkel fail to progress

The pair's smiles couldn't disguise the level of disagreement.

After this week's war of words over an EU Robin Hood Tax, David Cameron and Angela Merkel were all smiles at their press conference in Berlin. But their avowals of friendship ("we are very good friends," said Cameron, protesting rather too much) couldn't disguise the level of disagreement between the pair. On the Tobin tax itself, Merkel admitted that while they both favoured a global transactions tax they had made "no progress" on a European version. Unlike the German Chancellor, Cameron and George Osborne, who has described the proposed EU tax as "a bullet aimed at the heart of London", remain unwilling to introduce it without the agreement of China and the US.

Worse, Merkel restated Germany's opposition to the use of the European Central Bank as a lender of last resort. She spoke of the need for European leaders to use all available "weapons" to defend the single currency but added: "one should also not pretend to be more powerful than one is"

Cameron spoke simply of the need for all eurozone countries to show a "commitment to fiscal discipline", refusing to acknowledge that austerity has failed in Europe. As historian Richard J Evans argues in his magisterial essay in this week's New Statesman: "German-style fiscal discipline is all very well but it is not going to solve anything in the short run." But both Cameron and Merkel remain unwilling to grasp the nettle.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.