Prime Ministers have the advantage in parliamentary set-pieces. They have command of the dispatch box and always get the final answer, allowing them to squash even those who have asked a question well. But even so, David Cameron’s performance in the House of Commons today giving a statement on his deal with the EU and the referendum was a reminder that he is a cracking performer when on his game. It is no use Outers being grumpy about it. Those for Leave have had a tremendous three days, and here was a necessary reminder of how hard they will find it to defeat Cameron. The Tory leader sounded reasonable and plausible, even when he was at points talking nonsense, and he beat up on Boris Johnson, his rival who infuriated him by backing Brexit. Leave, he claimed, is for the birds and divorce is an expensive business. It was revenge as a dish served cold. Here are Cameron’s cleverly-crafted remarks directed at Boris:
“Mr Speaker, this is a vital decision for the future of our country. And we should also be clear that it is a final decision. An idea has been put forward that if the country votes to leave we could have a second renegotiation and perhaps another referendum.
Mr Speaker I won’t dwell on the irony that some people who want to vote to leave – apparently want to use a leave vote to remain. But such an approach also ignores more profound points about democracy, diplomacy and legality. This is a straight democratic decision – staying in or leaving – and no government can ignore that. Having a second renegotiation followed by a second referendum is not on the ballot paper.
And for a Prime Minister to ignore the express will of the British people to leave the EU would not just be wrong, it would be undemocratic.
On the diplomacy, the idea that other European countries would be ready to start a second negotiation is for the birds. Many are under pressure for what they have already agreed.
Then there is the legality. I want to spell out this point very carefully. If the British people vote to leave there is only one way to bring that about – and that is to trigger Article 50 of the Treaties and begin the process of exit. And the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away.
Let me be absolutely clear how this works. It triggers a two year time period to negotiate the arrangements for exit. At the end of this period, if no agreement is in place then exit is automatic unless every one of the 27 other EU Member States agrees to a delay. And we should be clear that this process is not an invitation to re-join, it is a process for leaving.
Sadly, Mr Speaker, I have known a number of couples who have begun divorce proceedings. But I do not know any who have begun divorce proceedings in order to renew their marriage vows.
We should also be clear about what would happen if that deal to leave wasn’t done within two years. Our current access to the single market would cease immediately after two years were up. And our current trade agreements with 53 countries around the world would lapse. This cannot be described as anything other than risk, uncertainty and a leap in the dark that could hurt working people in our country for years to come.
And this is not some theoretical question, this is a real decision about people’s lives. When it comes to people’s jobs, it is simply not enough to say that it will be all right on the night and we will work it out…
And Mr Speaker, let me end by saying this. I am not standing for re-election. I have no other agenda than what is best for our country. I am standing here today telling you what I think. My responsibility as Prime Minister is to speak plainly about what I believe is right for our country.And that is what I will do every day for the next four months.”
Later, Boris asked a question about sovereignty, which Cameron easily batted away. Boris looked crumpled.