Sketch: While the inmates riot, leaders swap taunts

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The Independent Online

Sir Peter Tapsell was clearly disappointed. Rising from his seat with all the inimitable authority of a man who was working for Anthony Eden a decade before the present Prime Minister was born, he had asked what Angela Merkel's reaction had been when David Cameron had made it "admirably" clear that the Bank of England, and not some alien European body, would have oversight over British financial services.

A great figure like Sir Peter does not do crestfallen. But he was stony-faced when Cameron failed to answer, merely sticking to his line that while Britain would not be party to any European Banking Union, it was in British interests to help one be created for the eurozone.

No doubt he had been hoping to be told that the German Chancellor had foamed at the mouth and uttered some Teutonic scream of rage, adding for good measure that the schweinhund Cameron had foiled a cunning plan to control the British banks from Berlin.

He was not alone. You only have to see the majority of Tory backbenchers in full cry on Europe to sympathise with Cameron's struggle to persuade them there might even be some benefit in staying in the EU.

Shipley's Philip Davies led an onslaught on Cameron's plan for a referendum on a renegotiated settlement with Europe. "Only an in/out referendum will do for the British people," he said, before adding, in the style of a Mafia don telling another that a horse's head in his bed would be the least he could expect: "It will be in his very much best interests if he would stop resisting it."

Against this background the almost routine exchanges between Ed Miliband and the Prime Minister boiled down to the Finn versus the Bulgarian. Miliband taunted Cameron with the "Anglophile" Finnish Europe minister who had complained that the UK was "saying bye bye" to the EU. And Cameron countered with the Bulgarian head of the socialist bloc in the European parliament who was opposed to gay pride marches.

At one point Miliband remarked of the noisy Tory backbenchers that "they don't like it" when he tells them how little influence Cameron has in Europe. The problem with this line of argument is that many of them seem to like it quite a lot.