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David Cameron promises 'good deal for Britain' in EU talks

Published 16/12/2015

The Prime Minister is pushing for key EU reforms
The Prime Minister is pushing for key EU reforms

David Cameron has insisted his EU membership renegotiation will deliver a "good deal for Britain" after predecessor Sir John Major warned against flirting with leaving the union.

The Prime Minister mounted a staunch defence of his record on getting concessions from European counterparts ahead of a crucial summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The comments at PMQs came as a poll suggested the outcome of the negotiation could have a major impact on the looming in-out referendum, which is due to be held by the end of 2017.

The ComRes research for the Open Europe think-tank found a comfortable majority - 56% to 35% - in favour of staying in the EU under existing rules, and that hardened to 65% against 26% if Mr Cameron secured all his demands.

However, if there was no agreement on protection for non-eurozone countries the "Leave" camp would move narrowly ahead, by 46% to 45%.

Although an agreement will not be reached at this week's talks, Mr Cameron is hoping to get a final deal by February.

He has refused to rule out supporting Brexit if he fails to achieve his aims.

Former PM Sir John, whose own leadership was undermined by bitter internal rows over Europe, said: "I can't put myself inside David Cameron's mind, I can tell you what my view is: my view is that this renegotiation is important but that it shouldn't decide whether or not we remain inside the European Union because of the importance of the issue."

He told BBC Radio 4's Today: "If there is anyone in the UK who ought to be anti-European and thoroughly frustrated with them then perhaps it ought to be me. I am not a starry-eyed European, I did after all say no to the euro currency in the early 1990s, I said no to the single market and in 1996 I said no to joining Schengen when it began.

"So I am sceptical of a great deal of European Union policy. But flirting with leaving, at a moment when the whole world is coming together, seems to me to be very dangerous and against our long-term interests."

He added that for the UK to "head into splendid isolation" would not be "in our interests now or, perhaps more important, in the interests of our children and grandchildren and future generations".

Asked about Sir John's warning by the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson, Mr Cameron said: "W hat I will be doing is getting the best deal for Britain.

"This government was the first to cut the EU budget, it was the first to veto a treaty, the first to bring back substantial powers to Britain.

"We have got a great record on Europe and we will bring back a good deal for the British people."

The challenge Mr Cameron will face in Brussels was underlined by German chancellor Angela Merkel, who warned that the "core principles" of the EU in relation to free movement and non-discrimination could not be questioned.

One of the main stumbling blocks in the negotiations is Mr Cameron's call for a ban on EU migrants claiming in-work benefits until they have been in the UK for four years - a measure which would appear to clash with the principle of non-discrimination championed by the German leader.

In an address to the Bundestag, she said she wanted to reach an agreement which would allow the British Government to successfully campaign for a vote to remain in the EU.

But she added: "On the other hand, we don't want to, and we won't, call into question the core principles of European integration. These include in particular the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination between European citizens."

The BBC reported she had suggested that Mr Cameron should begin his negotiations by calling for a three-year bar on in-work welfare claims, rather than a four-year one.

But Downing Street insisted that Mr Cameron's existing proposal would remain the starting point for the talks.

A spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has made clear the proposal that is on the table as regards the welfare and migration element of the renegotiation is the four years and we will be discussing that tomorrow in Brussels in the EU council."

He added: "The Prime Minister will set out our proposals. If other EU leaders want to come forward with alternative proposals or suggestions, that will form part of that discussion.

"But let's wait until that discussion starts to then see what comes out of it."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was now clear that Mr Cameron's renegotiation had failed.

"The Prime Minister has botched his negotiations with European leaders. He has tried to bludgeon them into accepting flawed and phoney reforms, which will not address the real problems of the European Union - and failed," he will say in a speech on Thursday to European socialists in Brussels.

"They have called David Cameron's bluff, and he knows it. People across Britain and Europe know that the EU needs to change if it's going to work better for the majority of its people, not just its banks and corporations.

"Cameron's timid and lopsided demands, choreographed for the cameras, won't achieve that."

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