PM firm on curbing benefit tourists
Downing Street has brushed off a warning by the President of the European Parliament that concerns about the abuse of benefits by a "small minority" of migrants would not be allowed to interfere with free movement in the EU..
Just hours after meeting David Cameron in No 10, German MEP Martin Schulz launched a furious attack on what he said were the "outright lies" being told in order to create a "feeling of panic" over "so-called benefit tourists" from countries like Romania and Bulgaria.
His comments were widely seen as being aimed at Britain where Mr Cameron has made curbing the access of migrants from the EU to the benefits system a key plank of his EU re-negotiation strategy.
The Prime Minister's spokeswoman, however, made clear that he would not be deflected from pursuing his goal by Mr Schulz's comments.
"We are in a negotiation. As we said at the start there will be lots of noise through this negotiation. What matters, as the PM said yesterday, is that he thinks these talks are getting off to a reasonable start," she said.
"They are going to take time. There are going to be some issues that are easier to address than others. But the PM is absolutely committed to this negotiation. There are legitimate and genuine issues with the European Union that need to be addressed."
The Prime Minister was continuing his whistle-stop tour of European capitals to build support for his plans ahead of next week's EU summit with visit to Bratislava where he held a 30 minute meeting with Slovak premier Robert Fico.
Afterwards Mr Fico said he shared Britain's concerns about the abuse of welfare systems.
"We do have a great understanding and sympathy towards the need of the EU's new winds of reforming some areas. There are no categoric statements Slovakia would be saying that we are against this or that cannot be done," he said, according to the BBC.
"We also share the same opinion with the UK with regard to some people abusing the welfare systems of some wealthy countries."
Mr Cameron also met Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who was in Slovakia for an international security conference.
The Prime Minister's spokeswoman said Mr Sobotka told him that Britain was raising "legitimate issues" in seeking reform.
Labour former home secretary Alan Johnson, who will lead the party's campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum, criticised the way Mr Cameron was attempting to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU.
He told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "I wouldn't negotiate this way. I was a trade union negotiator for many years and I always found the worst way to negotiate is to throw yourself on the mercy of the employer, in this case the othe r 27 countries, saying 'oh, please give us this otherwise we might have to leave'.
"You have got to have strong arguments and the best way to negotiate in Europe is by taking a leading role, building alliances, bringing people with you.
"There's only one person who wants us to stay in Europe more than I do and that's the Prime Minister. He's got himself in these machinations for party political reasons."
Mr Johnson said it would be "catastrophic" for Britain to leave the EU.
Asked if he would share a platform with Mr Cameron, he replied: "I think that's very unlikely given the way the Prime Minister has dealt with this. I want a yes vote in this campaign and if I think that standing on a platform with the Prime Minister or anyone else ..."