Liaison Committee Evidence Session with the Prime Minister on EU Referendum

On 4 May the second Liaison Committee evidence session with the Prime Minister since the May 2015 general election focused solely on the EU Referendum.

The Liaison Committee is made up of all the Select Committee chairs and this was the second time the new Committee had questioned the David Cameron since the general election last May. Dr Mark Bennister is leading a research project, funded by the Nuffield Foundation investigating these sessions. You can find out more about the project here .

The topic for the session on 4 May was the EU Referendum and the Prime Minister had reluctantly agreed to appear, having been wary of making any commitment to another committee session back in January. Little notice was given of the session, but it proved both an opportunity for the Prime Minister to present his case for remaining in the EU and a chance for Eurosceptic MPs to challenge him. Again Chair Andrew Tyrie proved combative and interventionist in his management of the evidence session.

The transcript of the full committee hearing is available on the Parliament website and the TV recording here

Researcher Shayne Halfpenny-Ray has compiled a review of the media coverage of the session, below.

The overwhelming focus of the 4th May Liaison Committee (LC) meeting has been placed upon the upcoming question of the EU referendum; the Prime Minister’s (PM) reluctance to attend was also noted. Many articles or blogs cite key quotes or exchanges between Committee members and the PM. The main article responses have been neutral, although a few negative comments about the Liaison Committees ability to hold Cameron to account were either stated or implied. Due to the membership of the Liaison Committee a plurality can be observed in questions directed to the Prime Minister, covering a number of areas including (not exclusively):

  1. The failure of Cameron’s proposed treaty changes
  2. The question of resignation following an Out victory.
  3. National Security implications of leaving the EU.
  4. The possibility of Turkey’s membership and Cameron’s changed opinion upon it.
  5. Scottish independence referendum right if the Out campaign is successful.

Hannah White – Institute for Government:

Hannah White offered an interesting commentary of the lead up to the latest Liaison Committee meeting, citing specific public exchanges which represent a certain unwillingness to attend on the part of the Prime Minister. She stated that discussing the EU membership question is a rational subject that should be scrutinised in a committee setting, and the Liaison Committee is the optimal setting instead of the PM attending a variety of individual committees. Whilst citing a number of strong arguments for attending the LC and for the topic on EU membership to be held at such a location, she was also able to highlight an extremely pertinent point. That being, how the PM’s attendance, despite his own misgivings, displays the growing political power that Parliament’s Liaison Committee now holds under its new chair.

http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/13665/the-prime-minister-and-the-liaison-committee/

PoliticsHome:

There was a brief mention of Cameron’s appearance at the Liaison Committee. However, there was a rather negative reference to the Committee, doing nothing to help underline its importance.

https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/politics/politicshome-memo/74568/politicshome-memo-wednesday-4-may

As mentioned above, there were a number of overlapping and interesting themes explored during the Liaison Committee on the 4th May. For the purpose of clarity, there will be a summary of topics and discussions of the LC where applicable, links to the respective news/blog sources will be provided.

Failure of Cameron’s EU treaty changes:

Under the guise of the EU referendum scrutiny, the Liaison Committee was an apt place for discussion of the deal negotiated with the EU by David Cameron in order to promote European Union reform. These negotiations were not overlooked, with Sir William Cash, a well-known Eurosceptic, attacking David Cameron’s promises. The Telegraph going as far to say that he was taken to task by the veteran Eurosceptic MP; Cash stated Cameron’s treaty negotiations package were a failure. He went on to attack the veracity of the claims that they were successful on the basis of them being reversible and thus, no fundamental changes would occur by the time voters hit the polls in June. Cameron refuted this suggestion and went on to say that the real disagreement is between them personally stating he believes in remaining in a reformed EU and Sir Cash wishes to leave. He also made it clear that voting should be done without a partisan mind, it shouldn’t be a case of weighting politicians or people’s futures against one another, it should be about the future of Britain within Europe. The Telegraph, whilst not commenting on the Liaison Committee itself, used drama to ingratiate readers into the meeting, which can be seen as a positive lure for future public interest in its proceedings.

# Headline Date Published Author Link
1 David Cameron taken to task by veteran Tory Eurosceptic over ‘false prospectus’ 4/5/2016 After Unspecified (Telegraph) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/04/watch-live-david-cameron-questioned-by-select-committee-mps-on-t/
2 PM defends EU reforms as Tory MP accuses him of ‘cheating’ referendum voters 4/5/2016 After Unspecified (The Express and Star Midlands paper) http://www.expressandstar.com/news/uk-news/2016/05/04/tony-blair-rational-voters-will-heed-obamas-brexit-warning/
3 PM defends EU reforms as Tory MP accuses him of ‘cheating’ referendum voters
 
4/5/2016 After Press Association (Daily Mail) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3572711/Tony-Blair-Rational-voters-heed-Obamas-Brexit-warning.html

 

The question of resignation following an Out victory:

For reference, both the Express & Star, and Daily Mail articles were virtually identical and so the content summarised below comes from both. It seemed that MP Frank Field was incredulous over the prospect of David Cameron from staying on as PM following an unsuccessful Remain campaign. There was also a discussion on the Remain campaign using fear tactics to underline its position. The PM was also insistent that he does not regret promising the referendum as he said he was a great believer in democracy. The question of the EU and national security UK security with reference to measures such as Europol and the European Arrest Warrant, which, in his eyes, are impossible to reintegrate with if we were to leave the EU. This mention of security was then challenged by Meg Hiller MP, who asked wasn’t calling for a referendum in the first place a threat to the security we have by questioning our place in the Union. Cameron avoided answering this question. This session showed Cameron very much on the back foot over certain key issues and underlines the value of Liaison Committee meetings. Neither article really delved into the nuance of the Liaison Committee only offering a play by play overview for their readership.

# Headline Date Published Author Link
1 PM defends EU reforms as Tory MP accuses him of ‘cheating’ referendum voters 4/5/2016 After Unspecified (The Express and Star Midlands paper) http://www.expressandstar.com/news/uk-news/2016/05/04/tony-blair-rational-voters-will-heed-obamas-brexit-warning/
2 PM defends EU reforms as Tory MP accuses him of ‘cheating’ referendum voters 4/5/2016 After Press Association (Daily Mail) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/pa/article-3572711/Tony-Blair-Rational-voters-heed-Obamas-Brexit-warning.html

 

The question of Turkey and EU membership:

A number of news sources caught David Cameron’s blunt assessment of the prospects of a Turkish EU member state. Who stated that it would not happen for many years, and is not even a remote issue on the cards.

The Guardian also picked up on demands for the government to remove its pro-remain posts on government websites during purdah, and said to expect a letter about the issue.

The RT stated the PM was grilled, and even displayed public tweets, some of which mentioned scrutiny shifting from the House to the committees, and others questioning the ability of the Committee to effectively scrutinise the PM. One tweet even called the Committee hopeless.

The BBC and PoliticsHome articles were neutral in comparison. In this case there were clear issues with the LC’s effective, however, some of it stems from the belief that the House is unable to hold the PM to account and the frustration over a majority Eurosceptic panel for this topic was not missed.

# Headline Date Published Author Link
1 EU referendum: Cameron gives evidence to liaison committee – Politics live 4/5/2016 After Adam Sparrow http://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2016/may/04/labours-antisemitism-review-must-be-more-than-political-posturing-says-chief-rabbi-politics-live
2 Turkey joining EU ‘not remotely on the cards’ – Cameron tells Brexit grilling 4/5/2016 After Unspecified (RT) https://www.rt.com/uk/341815-cameron-brexit-parliament-questions/
3 EU referendum: Turkey joining EU ‘not remotely on cards’, says PM 4/5/2016 After Unspecified (BBC News) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36205844
4 David Cameron: Turkey will not join EU for decades 4/5/2016 After Emilio Casalicchio (PoliticsHo-me) https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/foreign-affairs/news/74604/david-cameron-turkey-will-not-join-eu-decades

 

Scottish Independence:

The Liaison Committee became a central piece in the Herald Scotland, due to the Scottish MP Pete Wishart suggested that should the UK leave the EU but a majority of Scottish voters vote to stay, they would have the mandate to request a second independence referendum. This topic was also picked up by RT, where on tweet mocked the question altogether. The BBC also covered the topic. Minus the mocking tweet in the RT, the other articles provided a neutral description of events and no comment about the LC itself was made.

# Headline Date Published Author Link
1 Cameron plays Union card: vote to stay in the EU to preserve the UK

 

4/5/2016 After Michael Settle (Herald Scotland) http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14471201.Cameron_plays_Union_card__vote_to_stay_in_the_EU_to_preserve_the_UK/
2 Turkey joining EU ‘not remotely on the cards’ – Cameron tells Brexit grilling 4/5/2016 After Unspecified (RT) https://www.rt.com/uk/341815-cameron-brexit-parliament-questions/
3 EU referendum: Turkey joining EU ‘not remotely on cards’, says PM 4/5/2016 After Unspecified (BBC News) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36205844

Highlighting the growing awareness of Liaison Committee Meetings:

Following on the theme of addressing the LC’s media coverage, there was a small mention of the LC in a politically left campaign press release for the War on Want. Whilst the article is a short attack on Cameron’s failures over TTIP and preaches the need for MPs to vote on its future, it is important to examine that even the more niche news sources are beginning to cover LC content.

The Daily Globe however, offers the most explicit mention of the Liaison Committee proceedings. The article mentions David Cameron’s reluctance to attend, and notes the chair’s disappointment at this prospect. It suggests the strength of the Committee’s will for the PM to attend and their ability to follow this through. It goes on to discuss how the Committee system works. The author goes on to list the different questions and attacks Cameron faced, however he goes on to say how eloquently the PM dodged questions with all the airs and graces of Tony Blair, and how he constantly employed spin tactics. Whilst the article critiques, Cameron and the Brexit question more than the Liaison Committee, it may be indicative of the author’s contempt for Cameron’s performance to suggest the inability for the LC to handle him. The reference to Tony Blair only strengthens this implication as he was also notoriously difficult to handle within Liaison Committee meetings.

# Headline Date Published Author Link
1 Cameron’s insult to Parliament, Britain, the EU and others 4/5/2016 After Rex N. (Daily Globe) http://www.dailyglobe.co.uk/comment/camerons-insult-parliament-britain-eu-others/
2 TTIP leaks: Cameron ‘playing the public for fools’ 4/5/2016 After Unspecified – Press release (War on Want) http://www.waronwant.org/media/ttip-leaks-cameron-‘playing-public-fools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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