PMQs as-it-happened

Ian Dunt By

11:38 - It's all go today. Cameron... detonated his EU referendum speech at eight this morning. For the time being, he is living in the land of happy places and nice things. His backbenchers have had their tummies stroked so efficiently they are somewhere beyond purring. The press are in love with his manly, decisive approach to historic international conundrums. And Miliband is in an ugly place, given he actually has no policy on whether there should be a referendum. I've written about why this won't last. The speech will soon be used as a stick to beat the prime minister. But for the time being he's riding high, reaching for the lasers before the come down kicks in. Today will be a thrashing for Miliband from a jubilant Tory party. If the Labour leader somehow avoids it, it will be definitive proof of his political genius. In other words: he won't avoid it.

11:44 - Very good point from @anthonypainter on Twitter: "If I were Ed Miliband, I'd focus on the detail today. What in precise terms is Cameron seeking to repatriate?"

11:49 - Theresa Villiers is just finishing up Northern Ireland questions. As usual, she looks like she's just seen something startling. She shares an unfortunate quality of Britain's health secretary - there is always a suggestion of fear in her eyes.

11:52 - And so it begins. Mark Pritchard MP has just called for the PM to campaign for 'no' in an in-or-out referendum. The genie is well and truly out the bottle. Cameron will not be able to control what he has unleashed.

11:59 - A minute or so until kick off. Clegg and Cameron are in their place.

12:01 - There was a big cheer when Cameron walked in by the way.

12:02 - Another big cheer as Cameron stands. Off we go. He starts by paying tribute to a fallen soldier who died last Wednesday from wounds sustained in Afghanistan.

12:03 - Nic Dakin (Lab, oddly female) asks why there is a gap between the PM's rhetoric on fighting terror and the cuts to the defence sector. Cameron gives a decent answer given his constraints.

12:04 - Nadhim Zahawi (Con, going places) raises holocaust Memorial Day. Children will always study what happened, Cameron says. Miliband talking deeply with Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander. Tough call for the Labour man.

12:05 - Miliband up. Huge noise in the Chamber. He joins the PM in paying tribute to the fallen soldier. "Can the PM guarantee that if he gets his in-out referendum he will be campaigning to stay in?"

12:06 - Cameron says he will. "I don't think was quite a complete answer to my question. Let's see if we can press him closer on how he is going to vote." Miliband asks that if he doesn't achieve his negotiating strategy Britain will leave the EU. Good question, good tactic. Cameron says Miliband is implicitly accepting the Tories will win the next election. Now he reminds the House of the falling unemployment numbers. Not a great start from Cameron here actually. "Has he got a clue what he would do?" he barks.

12:07 - Huge noise from Tory benches. Miliband says Cameron has had months to think about this. Gove would vote out. So what would he do? Will he guarantee he will vote yes? Cameron: "Yes. I support membership of the EU. Only the leader of the opposition would go into negotiations expecting to fail."

12:08 - "The reason the people behind him are cheering is not because they want to vote yes in a referendum, but because they want to vote no," Miliband says. Can the PM name just one thing that if he doesn't get it he will recommend Britain leaving the EU? Cameron; "I don't want Britain to leave the EU." Weak answer. Miliband sees the weak spots.

12:10 - Miliband: "Four hours since the big speech, he can't answer the most basic question of all - whether he's for yes or no." The Tories pretty much drown him out. Miliband presses on. "He's frightened because of the people behind him. It's not the situation in Europe, it's the situation in the Tory party." Cameron: "The most basic question of all is do you want a referendum."

12:11 - Huge moment."Our position is no, we do not want an in/out referendum" Miliband says. It didn't even seem as if he meant to say it. Absolutely crucial moment in British politics. Cameron: "I have politely to say to the gentlemen that his whole argument about uncertainty is undermined by his inability to say whether he supports a referendum or not." So Cameron apparently missed it.

12:15 - Remarkable moment. Hard to give points on events when they're so important and fast-moving, but Cameron obviously got the better of that. Snap verdict: Cameron: 3 Miliband: 1.

12:17 - There are caveats, however. For a start, Cameron was evidently nervous and carried on his pre-scripted answer on Miliband having no policy even when he had just revealed his policy. What could have been a triumphant moment for the PM turned into a missed opportunity. Secondly, and more importantly,- Miliband sees the weak spot. Cameron will be at the mercy of European negotiators because everyone knows he wants to campaign for yes and can only do so on the back of whatever deal they stitch together. Therefore, Miliband is right to get him to promise to campaign for yes and then reveal his red lines at negotiation. Miliband was always going to lose today, but he clearly sees how to get the better of Cameron in the months/years to come.

12:22 - Miliband, however, was very wrong to rule out a referendum. This was a major strategic error. He could have secured wiggle room by not stating his policy and see how the debate goes. Or he could have backed a referendum and used Labour's preference on the EU with voters to make the debate about securing working rights in Europe, rather than make it all about the referendum. However, he has walked into Cameron's trap. He is on record against a referendum. He shouldn't have done that.

12:24 - Right, well, on with PMQs. Graham Stuart (Con, daydreams of military glory) wags his hand around furiously as he attacks Labour's record on Europe. Not sure there was a question there.

12:26 - Oh Christ. It's Bill Cash (Con, not a big fan of the EU). He says Europe ignored his fiscal compact veto. What will happen if by next spring they go on with their own intended proposals? Not as easy a question as Cameron might have wished for or expected. "The eurozone countries do need to make changes to the European Union," he says. "This gives us the opportunity and the right to say that for those countries who aren't in the eurozone there are changes we want for a more open and flexible Europe."

12:28 - Dennis Skinner (Lab, ferocious) says there's nothing worse than watching the PM leave austerity Britain to hang out with millionaires in Davos. "I seem to remember last year I ran into the leader of the opposition," Cameron replies. He says his speech will be tough on CEOs. "He might even find there are some things I say he might agree with."

12:29 - Eleanor Laing (Con, also ferocious) says the election dividing line will be the Tories offering a referendum and Labour refusing it.

12:31- Ming Campbell mischievously expresses Lib Dem disgruntlement by demanding a Hesaltine inquiry into the EU. The Commons laughs. Cameron says he "gently" reminds the former Lib Dem leader that an in-or-out referendum was in the 2010 party manifesto.

12:33 - Helen Jones (Lab, dressed like rationing was still around) asks about cuts. Cameron offers the usual nonsense about difficult decisions. Crispin Blunt (Con, cerebral with fine glasses) says Cameron's example is "the best possible chance of saving Europe". Cameron says his agenda is good for the whole of the EU, not just the UK.

12:36 - And we're done. We'll have our official PMQs verdict from inside the Commons up in a moment. The news will be coming thick and fast today, so hang around on site as we bring you all the developments from across the continent as they come in.

Get involved Get Involved