What a lot of fun William Hague had this afternoon in the Commons as he opened a debate tabled by the Prime Minister on Europe. ‘I have not yet exhausted the list of the Coalition’s achievements,’ he told an MP trying to intervene. His speech was rather like a slow motion version of the PM’s address last week, but with words like ‘subsidiarity’ added in for good measure, and a longer tour of how wonderfully robust the Tory party is on Europe.
Though some Tory MPs made their own thoughts on the referendum clear (James Clappison called for legislation in this parliament for a referendum in the next, and Bill Cash said he’d rather the plebiscite take place before the European elections), the focus was on poking fun at the Labour party: a rare moment of Coalition unity. ‘Never has such certainty created such uncertainty so quickly,’ quipped Hague, finally reaching his attack on the opposition after that very long list of coalition achievements.
He was rewarded with some nice squirming from Douglas Alexander on where Labour does stand, and another forceful speech from the eurosceptic cuckoo in the Labour nest Kate Hoey, who said her party would ‘inevitably’ offer a referendum after realising their current position was wrong.
Alexander tried to sketch out the Labour position on change in Europe as clearly as the confusion in his party would allow:
‘The Opposition have said that reform rather than repatriation is how to achieve the change in Europe we want… We have said that we will judge on a case-by-case basis the merits or demerits of where those powers reside.’
But Alexander did have one point: the current unity in the Tory party hinges partly on its MPs having no idea what Cameron will demand, or what he’ll get. ‘The impression of unity can only be achieved through the device of obscurity,’ he said.
They are still at it, and are expected to go on until 7pm.