A show-stealing non performance

They used to all agree with Nick. Today they couldn't even find him. Against a backdrop of coalition tensions, this afternoon's prime ministerial statement was dominated by the man who wasn't there - the deputy prime minister.

"Where's Nick?" Labour MPs demanded to know. Not in the Commons was the answer because, we were told, he didn't want to distract. But Nick Clegg's hand could be detected behind words uttered by David Cameron designed to close the coalition's wounds.

Thus, Conservative MPs, who had roared when their leader arrived and when he talked of defending the national interest, fell silent when the prime minister declared that "we are in the EU and want to be".

Thus, after ministers suggested that the institutions of the EU could not be used by the new Euro-plus group, they now say that they will take part in constructive discussions.

Thus, Liberal Democrat criticism of the wielding of the veto was muted and coded - limited to praise for European co-operation and pleas to enthuse about Europe in public.

David Cameron can breathe a sigh of relief that he is not having to take a new EU treaty through the House of Commons, is not facing a Eurosceptic backlash or demands for a referendum.

On the other hand he will now have time to ponder whether Nick Clegg will be proved right when he said that this deal was bad for Britain and what the consequences are for the coalition of this damaging split.

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