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The great confrontation between David Cameron and Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers did not materialise today. Instead, the tone of the questions following the Prime Minister’s statement was strikingly civil. Edward Leigh thanked Cameron for the fact that there was going to be a referendum, Steve Baker paid tribute to his negotiating effort and Peter Bone tried to recruit him to the Out side. Jacob Rees-Mogg, though, was more critical. He complained that the ‘thin gruel had been watered down’ still further and warned Cameron he had a fortnight to save his reputation as a negotiator.
Perhaps the most significant moment came when Boris Johnson rose to ask Cameron a question. Boris had been goaded into action by Alan Johnson who had joked that with Boris’s father and brother backing in, the question was when would Boris join ‘Johnsons for In’. Boris asked Cameron for more on sovereignty and Cameron replied that this was something he was aiming to do. The exchange made it sound like Boris would come out for staying In but only after Cameron had produced his ‘sovereignty rabbit’, essentially a declaration that parliament is still supreme.
One thing that was telling was how keen Cameron was to avoid discussing the detail. Liam Fox asked a question about how precisely the emergency brake on benefits would work which Cameron artfully dodged.
But I suspect that Cameron will be quite relieved by how this session went. Given the limitations of the deal, and its failure to live up to the fine rhetoric of his Bloomberg speech, he rather got away with it today.