The battle lines were clearly drawn in the House of Commons on Wednesday, February 3. UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, sought to sell the European Union reform package to Britain’s MPs.
Cameron says it delivers “substantial” reforms.
Draft EU renegotiation document shows real progress in all four areas where UK needs change but there's more work to do.— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) February 2, 2016
“If we stay, Britain will be in there, keeping a lid on the budget, protecting our rebate, stripping away unnecessary regulation and seeing through the commitments we’ve secured in this renegotiation, ensuring that Britain truly can have the best of both worlds,” Cameron told MPs.
A hard sell for some party members
Current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is hotly-tipped as Cameron’s successor to the Conservative Party leadership. However, he has been on the fence over the question of Europe and possible reforms, saying there was much, much more that needs to be done.
Home Secretary, Theresa May, has also been touted as a frontrunner for the party leadership, however, ahead of the reforms being proposed, she appeared to be leaning more towards leaving the EU. She has since said the package “offers a basis for a deal,” but shared Johnson’s view that more work is needed.
Labour supports staying, but…
The opposition Labour Party joins Cameron in supporting the idea of staying in the EU. But leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed anger over the way the reform package has been drafted.
“We believe the prime minister has been negotiating the wrong goals, in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons. For all the sound and fury, the prime minister has ended up exactly where he knew he would be: making the case to remain in Europe, which is what he always intended, despite (a) renegotiating spectacle, choreographed for TV cameras over the whole continent,” he told Parliament.
It is reported that ministers have agreed not to challenge the Prime Minister until a final version is on the table.
Cameron has now to convince the other nations in the 28-member EU bloc of the merits of the draft deal. He will be looking to get the go-ahead for the package at a meeting in Brussels on February 18 and 19.
In the meantime, he is on a whirlwind European tour to persuade fellow Union members to sign up. Cameron will begin in Poland and Denmark on Friday, February 5.
While parliament may be the first hurdle and Europe the second, an even bigger one will be to convince the British people.
A YouGov poll published before the European Council presented the draft proposal to the PM suggested a four-point difference, with 42 percent of Brits for leaving the Union, to 38 percent wishing to stay.
The UK press is likely to have a strong influence over public opinion. It has been, for the most part, scathing of the draft.
Time is ticking away with an in/out EU referendum possible in Britain as early as June, 2016.