Horsemeat scandal is just the latest episode in Cameron’s EU conundrum

Sketch

‘The residents of Thanet,” Laura Sandys, one of its two Tory MPs announced in the Commons today, “enjoy burgers but also love horses”.

Though effective, this isn’t quite a foolproof argument with which to tackle the consumer scandal of the week since the shocked “diners of Thanet”, as Ms Sandys described them, also probably like little gambolling lambs – which doesn’t stop them eating them.

Nevertheless the Prime Minister, no mean horse-lover himself, was quick to respond to the “extremely important and serious issue” she had raised, adding that the Food Standards Agency had “made it clear that there is no risk to public safety, because there is no food-safety risk, but this is a completely unacceptable state of affairs”.

In some parts of the world, of course, it would be anything but “completely unacceptable” to devour horsemeat on an industrial scale. It’s to Mr Cameron’s credit he didn’t pander to his more europhobic MPs, already excited at the prospect of subjecting his Big Speech tomorrow to minute scrutiny, by pointing to figures indicating that five EU countries, including France and Italy, are among the top 17 producers of horse meat. Especially as one of the food companies involved has already launched a “full-scale investigation into two continental European third-party suppliers who are the suspected source of the product in question”. It surely can’t be long before “they eat horses don’t they” will be adopted by Ukip as its new campaign slogan.

Which didn’t mean that two days before the Speech Mr Cameron could escape the subject – one that Ed Miliband gleefully reminded him that he had once said the Conservative Party’s biggest problem was that it spent far too much of its time “banging on” about. It wasn’t that Ed Miliband was particularly brilliant, though he is getting much better at the short question, as in: “Will Britain be in the European Union in five years’ time?” That this is too toxic to answer “yes” to in the modern Tory party – despite the Prime Minister’s personal view, restated yesterday, that “Britain is better off in the European Union” – illustrates Mr Cameron’s problem isn’t his style, which was combative as ever yesterday. It’s the cliffhanger soap opera he now finds himself in. Will it be an in/out referendum as Mr Cameron’s logic surely dictates it will be? Will Cabinet ministers be able to campaign on either side of the argument? Tune in for tomorrow’s enthralling episode.

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