Irresistible force (Tory backbenches) meets immovable object (France)

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Cameron and Hollande chat at the bar of The Swan Inn at Swinbrook in Oxfordshire. Photo: PA

Irresistible force (Tory backbenches) meets immovable object (France)...with David Cameron being crushed somewhere in the middle.

After the buffeting he got from his own party in Westminster yesterday, he might have hoped that today a visiting President Hollande would give him some respite. But in truth that was never likely.

Paris had been briefing for days that Cameron’s domestic troubles were his own problem.

Francois Hollande has quite enough on his plate domestically (literally in his case), not to be using political capital helping a man he hardly regards as a friend.

Just this week Grant Shapps, Cameron’s party chairman, accused Hollande of "driving the French economy into the sand." So he owes the British nothing.

And that was precisely what Cameron got. When he suggested that "some element of treaty change" was going to needed as part of his renegotiation strategy, Hollande shot back with "Treaty change is not a priority for us."

Or, to put it more simply, "no chance, David."

Hollande made the very valid point that any significant change to the treaties would trigger a referendum in France, and the French have a nasty habit of saying "non" if they don’t think much of the President asking the question.

And they don’t think much of Francois Hollande right now.

But the real reason the French are going to continue being obstructive is that they rather resent Cameron’s strategy.

Reports in France said Francois Hollande was having an affair with actress Julie Gayet. Credit: Reuters

They think London is planning to block changes needed to get the Eurozone back on track unless Britain gets some concessions too.

Now this may be exactly the sort of tactic Paris has used to get its way in Europe ever since the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1956, but they’ll be damned if they’re going to let anyone else do it.

So plenty of co-operation of defence issues (which is why this summit was rather incongruously held at RAF Brize Norton) and plenty of gratitude for British help in Mali and the Central African Republic, but on Europe Cameron got nothing.

On the real talking point of the day, Hollande gave nothing either. French journalists were hovering around their British counterparts for much of the morning asking (none too subtly) ‘what are you planning to ask Hollande?’

In other words, will you ask the question about "L’affaire Gayet" that we dare not?

Well, Fleet Street (as it used to be known) did not disappoint.

“Do you think you’ve made your country a laughing stock? Are you still having an affair with Julie Gayet? Do you wish she was here?” asked the Telegraph’s Chris Hope, letting the French guest have it with both barrels.

“I will not answer your question” came Hollande’s reply. Next?

As for David Cameron, he went home to launch a new front in the European war by announcing there’d be another attempt in the next Parliament to get a referendum onto the statute book.

His battle today may have been lost, but he’s not alone in his desire for treaty change.

The Germans are still wavering on the subject, and as everyone knows in Europe these days, everyone may have an opinion, but in the end everyone does what the Germans want.