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Donald Macintyre

Trading Police references, the usual Euro banter had a certain Sting about it

Cameron came back with, 'Given his policy on Europe, I can recommend So Lonely and Can't Stand Losing'

So laid back were yesterday's exchanges in the wake of last week's – admittedly less than thrilling – EU summit, that David Cameron and Ed Miliband were reduced to trading Police jokes.

Miliband started it by referring to the Prime Minister's remark last week that the long delays to his much foreshadowed Europe speech reflected a "tantric approach to policy-making" and the band's most famous artist's equally unguarded two decade old boast about his sex life. "Parliament's answer to Sting sits before us, Mr Speaker. They've both fallen out with the police, so there were go."

Rising to the occasion Cameron replied: "He's obviously been running through his old Police albums. Given his policy on Europe, I can recommend 'So Lonely'… and since 'I Can't Stand Losing', he'd better get used to it…."

Admittedly Cameron has the advantage that "I Cant Stand Losing [You]" came out when he was 13 and Miliband was only 10.

But given, as he pointed out, that he had no prior notice that the Opposition leader was about to plunge us into late Seventies post-punk, the Prime Minister was the clear victor.

Especially since he is on record as saying Radiohead, The Smiths, Blur and Oasis are his favourite bands. With Florence and the Machine as an up-to-date afterthought. And even though "So Lonely" probably better describes his own position on Europe – at least in his own party – than Miliband's.

On this point however Cameron was presented with a seasonal gift by, improbably enough, Labour's Dennis Skinner, who suggested mischievously that given his disagreements with the Tories on Europe Nick Clegg should be allowed to make a separate statement.

So grateful was Cameron for this reminder that Labour also has its eurosceptics like Skinner that – still perhaps making amends for his gibe earlier this year about the Beast of Bolsover being a "dinosaur" – he even wished him a Happy Christmas.

Cameron treated another question from Labour with respect – this time from Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor, who is not exactly on the cutting edge of euro-federalism and who said the step taken towards banking union in Brussels at the end of last week sounded "half baked".

This matters since ministers have repeatedly said that the crisis the union is intended to help resolve is the main reason why the British economy has fared so much worse than forecast.

Tory arch-eurosceptics seized hopefully on Cameron's declaration that he did not envisage an "immediate" in/out euro referendum – not to mention the Prime Minister's declaration that (while he certainly didn't prefer it) the "exit" from Europe to which Miliband maintained the government was now sliding was "imaginable."

Philip Davies, with menacing understatement, said that if he were now to promise an in/out referendum for he next parliament, he would have a "great deal of support from these benches".

He did not have to spell out what he envisaged from hard-liners like himself if Mr Cameron failed to do so. Another eurosceptic Tory, Mark Pritchard, even offered to help the Prime Minister write the speech over the Christmas holiday.

Cameron was grateful for the offer, he said gracefully, while not actually taking him up on it.

You couldn't help thinking that with Virgil he was thinking "non tali auxilio" – or roughly translated "I need help from him like a hole in the head".