Old battles and mutual respect

Bill Cash and Ken Clarke

Europe has been one of the great fault lines running through British politics, a source of party splits and parliamentary rebellions.

The referendum certainly didn't end tensions and divisions and there will be many more arguments over the next two years.

But one of the most striking things about yesterday's debate on the bill which would pull the UK out of the European Union, was how good tempered it was.

Perhaps the tone was established early on by those two veterans of the European argument, Kenneth Clarke and Sir Bill Cash?

During his speech, Ken Clarke insisted he was on good terms with the people he dubbed "the hard-line Euro-sceptics" because he respected their sincerity.

And he joked that "hot tongs" wouldn't make Sir Bill Cash vote for membership of the EU.

Sir Bill returned the compliment. He paid tribute to Mr Clarke and declared: "I respect him and the way in which we have battled over these matters over all these years."

Who'd have thought we'd see such a public display of clubbable chumminess from two veterans of the bitter Maastricht rebellions?