David Cameron attends a ceremonial welcome for The President Of United Mexican States at Horse Guards Parade on March 3, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Confident Cameron blusters through immigration and TV debates

Miliband's arguments were by far the stronger but at no point did the PM appear truly uncomfortable. 

David Cameron had the confidence of a man scenting victory at today's PMQs. The latest polls, showing the Tories ahead, meant he was in boisterous, remorseless form. Ed Miliband sought to pin him down on his failure to meet his promise to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year (of which he once declared: "If we don't deliver our side of the bargain, kick us out in five years") and his refusal to commit to the TV debates. But Cameron simply blustered through it at all. Miliband's arguments were by far the stronger but at no point did the PM appear truly uncomfortable. 

On immigration, he declared: "There are two reasons for high migration, one is the growth of our economy and the other is that our benefits system allows people to access that benefits system straight away – I say let’s keep the strong economy and change the benefits system, he wants to keep the benefits system and trash the economy!" As Miliband pressed him on his "no ifs, no buts" promise, Cameron simply listed all the pledges the Tories had met. It was shamelessly evasive but also a reminder of how much easier the better economic news has made these encounters for him. 

He was similarly shameless in the case of the TV debates. Challenged by Miliband to commit to them, he simply replied: "We’re having a debate now" (the traditional riposte of every PM until Gordon Brown). Not even he seemed convinced by his later declaration that he wanted them to happen "before the election" (that is, before the start of the short campaign on 30 March). Never have the debates appeared more doomed. As Labour sources briefed after the exchanges: “Behind the scenes Cameron’s team are doing everything they can to scupper the negotiations and sink the debates.”

As so often, Cameron couldn't resist a jibe at Ed Balls (a man with whom he is peculiarly obsessed) but this time at least he had a half-decent joke prepared. "He told us he was a long, slow burn," he said in reference to Balls's bedroom habits. "But I have to say the only thing lying in ashes is Labour’s economic credibility." 

One final point worth noting from today's session was Cameron's refusal to rule out again raising tuition fees. Asked by Labour's Seema Malhotra to do so, he did not even offer a token "no plans" assurance. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.