A particularly ill-tempered PMQs today, with David Cameron hurling abuse at Ed Miliband in a bid to remind his MPs that it’s the Labour leader, not him, they should be attacking. “The split that we have is between the Rt Hon Gentleman and reality,” cried the Prime Minister, branding Miliband a “complete mug” for not wanting to repatriate powers from Europe.
But while the PM has pledged to bring back powers, he hasn’t, as Miliband smartly noted, said which powers and when. To add to the confusion, Nick Clegg has declared: “It’s not going to happen … You don’t change Europe by launching some smash-and-grab dawn raid on Brussels.” What is the government’s policy? Cameron clearly didn’t want to answer the question because he absurdly attacked Miliband for moving on “to the politics”, as if the subject had no place in the House of Commons. He eventually replied that the government had already withdrawn Britain from the EU bailout fund and that Miliband had once said of the possibility of Britain joining the euro: “It depends how long I’m prime minister for”.
All good knockabout stuff but not, you suspect, the answer that the 81 EU rebels were looking for. They have already warned Cameron against raising unrealistic expectations by vowing to repatriate powers within the lifetime of this parliament. As Miliband noted, the coalition agreement offers no clarity on this point, promising only a “referendum lock” on any future EU treaties. Cameron can’t say which powers he wants back because to do so would enrage either the Lib Dems or the Tories (or possibly both).
But despite his smart line of questioning, this didn’t feel like a victory for the Labour leader. By the end, Cameron’s arsenal of insults (“I might have had a problem on Monday, I think he’s got a problem on Wednesday) had roused the Tory backbenches and Labour’s own lack of clarity meant several of Miliband’s attack lines fell flat. For now, there is little to be gained for either leader in arguing about Europe.