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PMQs sketch: We need to talk about Europe


WORDS: SAM MACRORY 

It was a continental flavoured PMQs today, but not of the freshly baked goods breakfast variety. In fact, this one had a decidedly stale feel to it, and Ed Miliband had sniffed out the opportunity for some mischief.

"When the Prime Minister first became leader of the Conservative party he said that their biggest problem was that they spent too much time banging on about Europe. Is he glad those days are over?" the Labour leader began with a leering grin. Even the Prime Minister laughed, probably nervously. Because the Tories haven't just been banging on. It's been a full blown cymbal-crashing, dustbin-bashing percussive orchestra, a cacophony of a drum-roll in the lead up to that speech about Europe on Friday morning. 

This morning it was the turn of Tory MP Andrea Leadsom to make some noise, with the launch of a report – this one's called a fresh start, which the PM is desperately hoping his speech will provide – into what to do about Europe. She sat a few rows behind Mr Cameron, clutching her report proudly. The smile on her face was as fixed as an arch-eurosceptic's views on a Brussels directive about bendy bananas. 

Mr Cameron meandered around an answer about national interests and knowing where he stood. Which was bang in the centre of 500 or so extremely over-excited MPs. It looked a terrible place to be. Could he not remember, Mr Miliband asked, when the pair walked "shoulder to shoulder, two parties in the national interest", to shoot down the efforts of Tory rebels to force a referendum on Europe?

"When it comes to Europe, it's the same old Tories - a divided party and a weak prime minister" Mr Miliband concluded. Labour MPs cheered wildly. Tory MPs looked like they were wondering what they had wished for. Nick Clegg must have hoped he'd soon wake up from a peculiar dream where he plays the Deputy Prime Minister in the European meltdown that was the John Major Government.

"Why doesn't he get on with substance and give up the feeble jokes?" the PM snapped, a response which suggested the jokes were working. "I thought the jokes were rather good", Mr Miliband replied, confirming his intention to bang on about Europe a little more.

On Europe, the horse has well and truly bolted. And who can blame it, given the recent news about burger-content? Tory MP Laura Sandys declared that "the residents of Thanet enjoy burgers but also love horses." A horse-burger might seem the obvious solution but no, Thanet-dwellers are "shocked to hear they could have been eating horses."

So was Mr Cameron. This is a sensitive subject for our equine-loving Prime Minister, and his mind must have turned to his old friend Raisa, the former police horse who once served as Mr Cameron's trusty steed and who sounds like prime – high end, naturally – supermarket burger material. 

But horsemeat wasn't the only culinary-concern of the afternoon. Keith Vaz asked a question which sounded like a ready-made press release (which knowing Vaz, it probably was) about sugar. “What steps does the Prime Minister propose to take,” asked the Labour MP, “to engage manufacturers in a war against sugar?” 

Mr Cameron was up for the battle. After all, he is "a parent trying to bring up three children without excessive amounts of coca-cola - I know how much of a challenge this is." 

It sounds pretty straightforward compared to his European conundrum. For some Tory MPs, talking about Europe has the same effect of guzzling a vat of the most sugar-packed drink on the shelf. A continental breakfast with added fizz if you like. And as David Cameron knows all too well, one which has every potential of going horribly flat. 

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