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EU Referendum

Inside politics: EU wishlist will be a tough test for Mr Cameron

MANY youngsters are beginning to think about their “Dear Santa” letters at this time of year.

PM Cameron is ready to set out the EU demands

 GETTY  PM Cameron is ready to set out the UK’s EU demands


In one household though a hopeful correspondent will be writing “Dear Donald” at the top of his seasonal wishlist next week. David Cameron is due to send a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk identifying the powers to be brought back from Brussels to Westminster. Gift wrapping is not seen as essential.But the concern in Downing Street is that the chief eurocrat and his Brussels elves do not think the Prime Minister has been a good enough boy this year. Mr Cameron is under pressure to tone down his demands in order to avoid disappointment. It is proving a tricky letter to write. The Prime Minister knows that the details, to be made public in a few days’ time, will be scrutinised by Tory MPs.

It is expected to provide the first clue as to whether his European negotiation drive will have any chance of delivering a genuinely new relationship with the EU, or will it simply be a charade designed to keep the country tied to Brussels. George Osborne fleshed out some of the Government’s renegotiation demands during his visit to Berlin this week.
The Chancellor expanded on his desire to cut regulations on business, end the EU’s commitment to “ever closer union” and provide some protection for Britain from being bullied by the mass alliance of eurozone countries. But the concern is growing at Westminster that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have had little to say in recent months about repatriating powers from Brussels and, in particular, regaining control of our borders.
In a speech about his EU reform demands a year ago the Prime Minister said: “I will insist that in the future those who want to claim tax credits and child benefit must live here and contribute to our country for a minimum of four years.” That statement was seen as setting out the very least the Prime Minister would accept in his effort to reduce the incentive for EU migrants to head to the UK.Tory MPs fear Mr Cameron may now have accepted he will have to settle for considerably less. Whether the four-year benefit ban appears in his letter to Brussels this week is seen as crucial to assessing the seriousness of the Government’s intent to curb EU welfare tourism.

David Cameron

 GETTY  The PM knows that the details, to be made public in a few days’ time, will be scrutinised by MPs


Yet Government officials have been looking at the effect of recent European Court of Justice rulings that suggest benefit bans of up to six months may not be discriminatory
Downing Street aides firmly denied a claim this week that Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, the country’s top civil servant, advised Mr Cameron that the proposal would be illegal under EU anti-discrimination rules and there were slim hopes of rewriting EU treaties to change that law. Yet Government officials have been looking at the effect of recent European Court of Justice rulings that suggest benefit bans of up to six months may not be discriminatory.Mr Cameron’s eurosceptic critics smell that a compromise deal well short of the four-year benefit ban may be being cooked up. EU immigration is threatening to become one of the deciding factors in the Tory leadership race ahead of Mr Cameron’s departure from Downing Street before the next general election in 2020.Both Home Secretary Theresa May and London Mayor Boris Johnson, rivals to Mr Osborne for the leadership job, this week refused to rule out heading the campaign for the country to quit the EU in the forthcoming European referendum. Provocatively, Mr Johnson described the idea that freedom of movement is a key founding principle of the EU as “baloney”.

Home Secretary Theresa May

 GETTY  Home Secretary Theresa May might be the next Tory leader


Their posturing raises the stakes for Mr Cameron as he ponders exactly how far to go in his letter to Brussels next week. The Prime Minister has little hope of keeping Britain in the EU if he cannot come up with a convincing plan for curbing rampant EU immigration.He also faces the collapse of the delicate party truce over Europe. His message to Mr Tusk in the next few days will clarify his chances of achieving those aims. It looks like being the most difficult letter he has had to write. 

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