After Prime Minister's Questions turned into 'Questions for the Leader of the Opposition', David Cameron did at least face some scrutiny today in the form of the Liaison Committee. Summoned before its chair Andrew Tyrie to answer questions on the EU referendum, it was clear that Cameron would rather not be there -- having tried to get out of attending back in April.
Things got off to a tetchy start as Tyrie attempted to pin the PM down on whether he would have campaigned for Brexit had his renegotiation fell through. The pair then bickered over whether Tyrie's question could be classed as hypothetical:
AT: I'm asking you a real question -- not a hypothetical one -- which is would the current arrangements in the EU be so unsatisfactory that you would be arguing we should leave?
DC: That is a hypothetical question. You're question actually begins with the word 'if'. If you hadn't got a renegotiation would you have stayed in the EU -- that is a hypothetical question and my point is I never wanted the British people to have to answer that question and that is why I said we wanted a renegotiation and then a referendum. Now, if you're asking me what has been my view about Europe over the years then I've answered that very clearly
AT: No, I haven't asked you that question but it's nice of you to have a go at answering it
However, after the initial scrapping, Cameron got down to business. As hostile questions came his way from both Eurosceptic and pro-EU members of the committee -- which is made up of the chairs of all the parliamentary select committees -- the Prime Minister did his best to keep his cool.
He batted away a question from Bill Cash on the basis that his Eurosceptic bias meant they would never agree. When Cash's comrade Bernard Jenkin later informed Cameron that it was against the law for the government to keep it's pro-EU websites up during the purdah period as they plan to, he said they were consulting with lawyers. When Jenkin then told Cameron to 'expect a writ' if he did not relent, he cracked a joke about needing to return to the office to deal with this matter.
On Turkey, Cameron made his strongest comments yet that the country would not be allowed to join the EU 'for decades' -- even though he claimed he would fight for the country to join as recently as 2010. 'I don’t think the accession of Turkey to the European Union is remotely on the cards. I don’t think it will happen for decades,' he argued. 'So I would say very clearly to people, if your vote in this referendum is being influenced by considerations about Turkish membership of the EU, don’t think about it. It is not remotely on the cards. It’s not an issue in this referendum.'
On the Remain side, the SNP's Pete Wishart suggested that Cameron was damaging the case for In by leading a Project Fear campaign. Cameron disputed this, arguing that none of the stories used by the In side were exaggerated. He said that the Remain side's claim that 100,000 jobs would be lost in the City in the event of Brexit came directly from the head of the Stock Exchange.
By the end of the session, Cameron was on positively buoyant form as he answered a request from a stern-faced Tyrie to put forward the case for Remain in light of Michael Gove's suggestion that EU membership was eroding Britishness:
We are Britain, we're proud, we're independent, we're strong, and we can be bloody-minded. We get things done. We're an amazing country, but we don't give up our national identity by being part of this organisation, just as we don't give up our national identity by being part of Nato or the G7 or the Commonwealth. We are the most connected, most effective nation I would argue in the world and we shouldn't walk away from institutions that help us win in the world. So I think there's a big bold British case to make and it's a positive case.'
Concluding the session, even Tyrie conceded that Cameron had offered 'direct answers' and been 'pretty clear'. For a session the Prime Minister was dreading, he survived it relatively unscathed.