The Prime Minister’s “Michael Gove” Statement
Fascinating statement from the Prime Minister on what was obviously a fruitless Brussels summit last week: it made “limited progress”, he said.
As James Forsyth noted, Ed Miliband adopted quite a pro-European tone, although he mainly played his response for laughs, mocking Cameron for claiming to have made progress on energy and digital stuff, when the wording of the summit conclusions was pretty much the same as in previous years.
The Labour leader noted that Michael Gove, who wants to leave the EU, was not on the government bench, but failed to exploit the Prime Minister’s evident embarrassment at such a fundamental rift in the Cabinet. Imagine what sport John Smith as leader of the opposition would have had with that.
Instead it was left to Denis MacShane, Labour backbencher, to ask the obvious question. He quoted Gove’s view as reported in what he called a Rothermere organ and asked if the Prime Minister agreed with it. The Conservative back benches cheered the idea that Gove would vote to leave the EU if there were a referendum, but Cameron dodged the question, saying, “We are not having an in-or-out referendum on the European Union tomorrow.”
The divisions on the Labour side were on display too. Ed Balls asked, “from a sedentary position”, as Cameron observed, “What is your leverage?” Cameron chose to interpret this as a question about the UK’s negotiating position on the EU budget, on which each country has a veto. But Balls might have been referring to Cameron’s plan to negotiate a “new settlement” with the EU, without a referendum on the option of leaving.
Cameron was then attacked by Philip Davies, Peter Bone and Mark Reckless for failing to promise an in-or-out referendum. Despite that, he managed to turn the next awkward Labour question, from William Bain, about Gove to his advantage. He said, “I always listen carefully to the Education Secretary,” before challenging Ed Miliband over Jim Murphy’s view that the time was coming for a referendum. “The Shadow Defence Secretary has said it is time for a referendum. Now is that Labour policy or not?” Miliband shook his head.
So Labour is against a referendum and the Prime Minister is in favour of a possible one (although an election might be enough) offering the choice between a “new settlement” or sticking with what we have now.
Michael Gove’s case for using an in-or-out referendum as leverage to change drastically the terms of the UK’s membership is going to cause a lot more trouble for both Cameron and Miliband.
Update: Hansard has now put up the Prime Minister’s answers to all 49 backbenchers. Here are the most interesting ones.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Did the Prime Minister discuss his plans for an EU referendum at the European Council? He may find an in/out referendum undesirable, but I find his in/in referendum equally unacceptable. Only an in/out referendum will do for the British people and it would be very much in the Prime Minister’s best interests if he stopped resisting it.
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend about many things, but on this one we do not agree. The problem with an in/out referendum is that it would put two options to the British people, which I do not think really complies with what people want. Many people, me included, are not satisfied with the status quo, which is why the “in” option is not acceptable; but many people—also like me—do not want us to leave altogether, because of the importance of the single market to Britain, a trading nation, so they do not want to be out. That is why I think that an in/out referendum is not the right answer.
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): So, the Prime Minister wants to renegotiate our membership of the EU and put the new terms to a referendum. However, will that be an in/in referendum or will a no vote end Britain’s membership of the EU?
The Prime Minister: We are getting slightly ahead of ourselves. We need to use the development of the European Union to seek a fresh settlement. There must then be fresh consent for the fresh settlement. There is time to elapse before that can happen because of the immediate firefighting in the European Union, and we can go on discussing it between now and the next election.
Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What advice did the Prime Minister seek from the Education Secretary and the third of the Cabinet whose policy it is to withdraw from the European Union before he attended the Council? Is it not the case that if we became the new Norway or Switzerland and had their policies, we would still be net contributors to the EU budget, but have little say over how it was spent, and we would still be bound by the rules of the single market, but have no influence over what those rules said?
The Prime Minister: I always listen carefully to all my Cabinet colleagues, especially the Education Secretary. However, the Leader of the Opposition has to answer the question himself. The shadow Defence Secretary has said that it is time for a referendum. Is that Labour policy or not?
Edward Miliband [indicated dissent].
The Prime Minister: No, it is not. Well, the right hon. Gentleman has clarified one thing this afternoon. That is very good.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Can the eurozone have a banking union that works without that leading to economic and political union too?
The Prime Minister: I think that the short answer to that question is no. Over time, the more there is a banking union and a fiscal union, the tighter the political union will be drawn, because—for instance—German voters having to stand behind Greek deposits, or French voters having to pay for the restructuring of a Spanish bank are deeply political questions. In my view, as the eurozone deepens its commitments, as is inevitable for a working single currency, there will be pressures for further political union, and for further treaties and treaty changes. That is why I believe it is possible for Britain to seek a new settlement and seek fresh consent on that settlement, but we have to show some patience, because right now the issue in Europe is how to firefight the problems of the eurozone—get down interest rates and get the eurozone economy moving—rather than thinking through all of the consequences of banking union and fiscal union in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.Tagged in: david cameron, euroscepticism, michael gove
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