Cameron, Juncker de­fend EU re­form plan in ‘Brexit’ bat­tle

The Pak Banker - - BUSINESS -

The bat­tle over Bri­tain's fu­ture in the EU in­ten­si­fied Wed­nes­day as Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron braced for a bar­rage of at­tacks from eu­roscep­tics over pro­posed re­forms the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion de­fended as a "fair" deal for all. Speak­ing at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Stras­bourg, Juncker said the pro­pos­als due to be put to a key sum­mit this month were "fair" for Bri­tain and its 27 part­ners.

EU pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk un­veiled pro­pos­als to avoid Bri­tain leav­ing the club on Tues­day, fir­ing the start­ing gun on two weeks of tense ne­go­ti­a­tions to reach a deal at the sum­mit of EU lead­ers. The plans in­clude a four-year "emer­gency brake" on wel­fare pay­ments for EU mi­grant work­ers, pro­tec­tion for coun­tries that do not use the euro and a "red card" sys­tem giv­ing na­tional par­lia­ments more power.

Cameron on Tues­day said Tusk's plans showed "real progress" and made it likely that he would cam­paign to stay in the Euro­pean Union in a ref­er­en­dum ex­pected in June. But he will likely face tough ques­tions from Bri­tish law­mak­ers in a de­bate due to start at 1230 GMT. Many have greeted the plans with scorn, with UK In­de­pen­dence Party head Nigel Farage dis­miss­ing them as "pa­thetic," while Con­ser­va­tive law­maker Steve Baker said the prime min­is­ter was just "pol­ish­ing poo".

For­mer de­fence sec­re­tary Liam Fox warned that up to five mem­bers of Cameron's cab­i­net could cam­paign to leave the union hav­ing seen the pro­pos­als. Lon­don's flam­boy­ant mayor Boris John­son has been named in the press as a po­ten­tial ral­ly­ing point for euroscep­tic ranks.

How­ever, the prime min­is­ter re­ceived a boost by win­ning the back­ing of in­te­rior min­is­ter Theresa May, a known euroscep­tic. Bri­tain's news­pa­pers on Wed­nes­day poured cold wa­ter on the plans, with pop­u­lar tabloid The Sun splash­ing "Who do EU think you are kid­ding Mr Cameron?" across its front page, say­ing the deal was a "farce".

The Daily Mail called it "The Great Delu­sion" and the euroscep­tic Daily Ex­press "A Joke" on their front pages. The pro­pos­als are also ex­pected to be a hard sell for some EU states, which fear Cameron is win­ning too many con­ces­sions ahead of a Fe­bru­ary 18-19 sum­mit. Ne­go­ti­a­tions are set to be­gin at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day, while Cameron is set to present the plans to par­lia­ment af­ter the weekly Prime Min­is­ter's Ques­tions ses­sion. He then be­gins a charm of­fen­sive that will take him to Poland and Den­mark on Fri­day then Ger­many next week.

Lon­don's bid to trans­form its EU mem­ber­ship has added to tur­moil in the bloc as it strug­gles with its worst mi­gra­tion cri­sis since World War II and the fall­out from the eu­ro­zone debt saga. The Bri­tish premier said Tusk's pro­posal showed he had "se­cured some very im­por­tant changes"."If I could get th­ese terms for Bri­tish mem­ber­ship I sure would opt in for be­ing a mem­ber of the EU," Cameron said in a speech in south­west Eng­land.

But Bri­tish eu­roscep­tics were un­con­vinced, with John­son say­ing he had "doubts" about their ef­fec­tive­ness. Opin­ion polls are split on whether Bri­tons would back leav­ing the EU in their first vote on the sub­ject since 1975. Tusk's most con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal is an "emer­gency brake" that would al­low any EU state to limit the wel­fare pay­ments mi­grants from other Euro­pean coun­tries can claim for up to four years af­ter their ar­rival. To pull the brake, states would have to prove an "ex­cep­tional sit­u­a­tion" in which their wel­fare sys­tem and pub­lic ser­vices are over­whelmed, get ap­proval from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and then from other bloc lead­ers in a ma­jor­ity vote.

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