At PMQs today, David Cameron will need to go some distance to meet his backbenchers and head off a government defeat tonight on the EU budget. He’ll need to say that he personally would like to see the EU Budget reduced and that if other countries are prepared to agree to that, he’d be delighted. But that the one thing he’ll guarantee is that he’ll veto any real terms increase. He’ll also need to take the fight to Labour on the matter, pointing out how Blair gave up a chunk of the rebate for the vaguest of promises on CAP reform.
Part of the reason that Europe votes keep causing Cameron so much trouble is that Number 10 goes into Maastricht mode every time one comes along. It seems to think that the most important thing to demonstrate is that the Prime Minister is not being pushed around by his backbenchers, with the result that the rebellions tend to grow very rapidly as they are refused any solace.
This latest squall has also illustrated the continuing weakness of the Tory whipping operation. As one Cabinet minister complained to me yesterday, they are ineffective, don’t know the party well enough and all their initiatives — like the Jacob Rees-Mogg amendment or getting George Eustice and Andrea Leadsom out to defend the government — are always at least half a day late.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.