Cameron Grilled on Europe Deal – By His Own Party

Tory lawmakers polite but doubtful about renegotiation as London Mayor Johnson stays on fence.

Cameron Says Britain Close to EU Membership Decision

David Cameron defended his draft European Union deal to the House of Commons as it was scrutinized by his fiercest critics -- members of his Conservative Party.

The prime minister opened his statement Wednesday by telling the chamber the proposals published the day before by EU President Donald Tusk were a good result. “Britain truly can have the best of both worlds,” Cameron said of the proposed new relationship. “In the parts that work for us and out of the parts that don’t.”

Tusk's plan offers Britain a four-year “emergency brake” on welfare for new migrants from the EU, sets out safeguards to shield the U.K. financial system from interference by euro-area regulators and provides more powers for national parliaments. 

If EU leaders agree to the package at a Brussels summit in two weeks' time, Cameron will call a referendum to seal the deal as early as June 23. 

With the opposition Labour Party largely on board with Cameron’s plan to keep Britain in the 28-member bloc, the main targets of his pitch were behind him on the Tory backbenches. He didn’t try to oversell it, and they responded by being politely doubtful. Even Bill Cash, a leading euro-skeptic, took a tone more of sorrow than anger.

“We were promised a fundamental change in our relationship with the EU,” Cash said. “We were promised that we would deal with excessive immigrant numbers.”

Cameron "bypassed promises" says MP Bill Cash

Cameron aimed to reassure. “He asks whether we are meeting what we set out,” the prime minister said. “These are the reforms that go to the heart of the concerns of the British people. People who feel this organization is too much of a political union, it’s too bureaucratic, it’s not fair for non-euro countries and we want more control over immigration. Those four things are largely delivered.”

Another prominent euro-skeptic Tory, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was more scathing. “The thin gruel has been further watered down,” he told the chamber, before warning Cameron that he “has a fortnight to salvage his reputation as a negotiator” by getting a deal with more teeth at the EU summit. 

Alan Johnson, the former Labour home secretary who is leading the party’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU, teased the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who has so far avoided saying whether he’s backing Cameron or will push for an exit.

Labour MP Alan Johnson at PMQ's

“Will the prime minister join me in welcoming the launch of Environmentalists for Europe, co-chaired by Stanley Johnson?” he asked, referring to Johnson’s father, before going on to mention his brother Jo: “Will he also welcome the splendid article last week setting out the importance for science and technology of remaining in the European Union penned by his science minister?” The Labour lawmaker urged Cameron to “have a word” with the mayor and “tell him the importance of family solidarity and joining the swelling ranks of Johnsons for Europe.”

A few minutes later, the mayor rose to his feet. Would this be the moment he came off the fence? No.

Boris Johnson challenges Cameron over EU negotiations

“Perhaps I can ask the prime minister how the changes as a result of this negotiation will restrict the volume of legislation coming from Brussels, will change the treaties so as to assert the sovereignty of this House of Commons,” Johnson said. It wasn’t a helpful question, but not a very hostile one either.

The latest poll published Wednesday by ICM Research showed 42 percent of voters backing staying in the EU, with 39 percent opposed. ICM questioned 2,002 respondents Jan. 29-31 online for the survey, for which no margin of error was specified. That 3-point lead for staying in compares with an even split at 41 percent for each side a week earlier. Recent online polls have been inconclusive, though telephone polls have shown double-digit leads for staying in the bloc.

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