DAVID Cameron claimed yesterday that a package of European reform was “worth fighting for” and delivered the “substantial change” he needed to campaign for EU membership.
The Prime Minister said the draft proposals outlining a new blueprint for staying in the EU would result in Britain being “better off, more secure [and] more prosperous”.
So we have made progress and negotiations continue. As the Prime Minister has said, more work needs to be done, but this is a basis for a dealTheresa May
Mr Cameron claimed that “real progress” had been made in renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Europe, paving the way for a June referendum on EU membership.
His bid to renegotiate Britain’s place in the EU was bolstered last night when Theresa May hailed the reform package as a “basis for a deal”.
The Home Secretary, who had been tipped as a possible leader of the “out” campaign, gave a qualified welcome to the plan on which the Prime Minister has staked his reputation.
Mrs May said more work needed to be done on the blueprint set out by European Council president Donald Tusk, but she added that the proposals addressed concerns about the “abuse” of EU free movement rules and the use of European law to block the deportation of foreign criminals. Although she stopped short of firmly endorsing the proposed deal, her comments will come as a relief to Mr Cameron who had earlier faced a barrage of criticism from the anti-EU lobby when he threw his weight behind the Tusk reforms.
Almost as soon as the draft package was published, the divisions within the Conservative Party were exposed and the proposals were criticised by prominent Tories.
Meanwhile, the SNP underlined its objections to a June poll claiming it would clash with the Scottish elections in May.
Eurosceptic Conservatives said the package did not yet go far enough to convince them that staying within the EU was the right thing to do.
The draft deal was made public in a letter to EU leaders from Mr Tusk and it must be endorsed by Britain’s EU partners and is set to be thrashed out at a summit in Brussels on 18 February.
The proposals include “an emergency brake” on welfare payments – a four-year restriction on new EU migrants claiming in-work benefits, if they are putting a strain on the welfare system.
It also recommends a “red card” system, which would give MPs the ability to band together with other like-minded parliaments in EU states to stop unwanted directives and laws.
The UK would also be excused from closer union and would not have to integrate further into the EU.
The pound would be protected by enshrining the idea that the euro is not the EU’s only currency. It also outlines measures to ensure eurozone rules are not imposed on non-eurozone nations, including Britain.
It also makes clear that non-euro states are not required to help bail out single currency members.
The key measure that should help Mr Cameron get Mrs May onside when it comes to campaigning for EU membership was that free movement would be restricted so people considered a threat to national security can be banned from coming to the UK.
Last night Mrs May released a statement, which will disappoint Brexit campaigners who were hopeful that the Home Secretary would provide them with a powerful Conservative figurehead.
Mrs May said: “EU free movement rules have been abused for too long and EU law has stopped us deporting dangerous foreign criminals.
“That is plainly wrong and it is encouraging that the commission has agreed with the UK that we should take action to address these two issues.
“So we have made progress and negotiations continue ahead of the February council. As the Prime Minister has said, more work needs to be done, but this is a basis for a deal.”
Earlier Mr Cameron had reacted to the Tusk package, by admitting Britain could survive and succeed outside the EU and acknowledged that the EU will not be “a perfect and unblemished organisation” after the implementation of the reforms.
But having invested his credibility on changing Britain’s relationship with Europe, the Prime Minister added: “I think we will be able to show – if we can secure what’s in this document, finish off the details and improve it still further – that on balance Britain is better off, more secure, more prosperous, has a better chance of success for all of our families and all our people inside this reformed European Union.
“I think this is the best of both worlds – out of the single currency, out of the no-borders agreement, out of an ever-closer union, but in the things that work for Britain, that give us jobs, that give us security, that give us the ability to make sure we have a stronger and safer world. I think that’s something worth fighting for.”
Mr Cameron said the Tusk document addressed four issues that “go to the heart of what we need to fix”.
He added: “We want to have a Europe where we are not subsumed into a superstate but we can be proud and independent. We want a Europe that is competitive, we want a Europe that respects our currency and treats us fairly and we want a Europe that takes the pressure off in terms of migration.”
Despite critics’ predictions that he would not be able to achieve his negotiation goals, he insisted that all of the areas of key concern had been “addressed in a proper way” and that he could say “hand on heart” that he had delivered.
In a letter to EU leaders, Mr Tusk said the package was “a good basis for a compromise”, adding that “there are still challenging negotiations ahead. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
Mr Cameron faced a backlash from the Eurosceptic wing of his party.
Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said he wanted “fundamental” change and still expected to vote for Brexit.
He added: “I don’t want to be churlish because I think David Cameron has clearly achieved some important improvements, but not on a scale that begins to address the concerns that I have,”
London mayor Boris Johnson has said that he has “doubts” about a proposed red card system for vetoing EU policies, adding that he believes there is “much, much more that needs to be done” on European reform.
Those actively campaigning to leave the EU were dismissive. Ukip’s Nigel Farage described it as “truly pathetic – no treaty change, no repatriation of powers, no ability to control our own laws, our money or our borders”.
The proposed package was criticised by Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, who said: “It simply cannot be right to have these elections and a referendum campaign clash with a June polling day on remaining in the EU or Brexit.”