Thin gruel and a pretend pig…

AN indication of what David Cameron is up against on Europe was yesterday quickly illustrated by one pretend pig and a bowl of thin gruel.

Oh you can’t get better than an angry Eurosceptic Tory when it comes to laying on the quaint old sayings with a trowel.

Jacob Ress-Mogg did his usual Dickensian turn in the Commons, saying of Mr Cameron’s announcements on Europe: ‘This is pretty thin gruel. It is much less than people had come to expect from the government.’

Then he swept off in a snowstorm to make sure some pesky young immigrants found their way to the workhouse rather than sneaking into honest people’s homes to sit before the fire without proper invitation.

Sir Bill Cash, veteran Eurosceptic and a splutter on legs, described the proposed reforms on our relationship with Europe as a pig in a poke. You could almost see the spittle on the television screen.

Who on earth says things like that nowadays? Only ancient MPs whose faces come in different shades of purple. A pig in a poke, if memory serves, was a cat hidden in a bag and being passed off as a suckling pig. It means to buy something blind without having a peep.

The other useful contribution to the language that this animal has given us, apart of course from the bacon sandwich, is its ear. A pig’s ear is the most worthless part of the animal, and the expression usually means to botch something.

Mr Cameron’s speech mostly gets a hostile reception in this morning’s newspapers, many of which are deeply Eurosceptic – while at the same time, ironically, being deeply anti-Corbyn and generally pro-Tory.

I’d say that Mr Cameron did what could be expected of a man trying to negotiate a middle way in a general hope of staying in Europe. The trouble is that many members of his own party are such mouth-foaming anti-Europeans that nothing he could have said would have appeased them.

Like over-sensitive members of a family, they are pre-programmed to take offence. Never mind how vaguely Mr Cameron tries to frame his thoughts, some of them will storm home in a huff even before the first course is on the table. That’s politics for you. And family politics too sometimes.

The prime minister’s main demand was for flexibility over the negotiations on Britain’s future in Europe. Many of the anti-Europeans – not all of them Tories, as this issue cuts across parties – will see this as code for Mr Cameron being all too ready to bend over backwards to accommodate Europe.

The difficulty he has lies with those touchy relatives. Nothing he can say will assuage them. Even if he’d said we were banning Camembert, outlawing lager and attaching a big outboard motor to Britain so that we could proudly sail further away from the Continent – they would have still have accused him of going soft on Europe.

There is little sense in much of what is said. Anyone who remains unsure about what Britain should do is unlikely to find much mental sustenance in this debate. Both those who wish to remain in Europe and those who want to leave tend to paint extreme scenarios.

What do I think? Oh, gosh is that the time already?

Okay, I’m for staying in Europe, partly because it seems more sensible and partly because, well, have you seen some of the antis? Anything Nigel Farage believes in so passionately has got to be regarded with suspicion in my book.

As for David Cameron, he made a sensible but timid attempt to set out his demands. Further storms over Europe are forecast.

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