EU Referendum

Tory feud on Europe bursts into the open as top MP campaigns with Nigel Farage and attacks David Cameron for ‘begging’ his EU allies for a deal

  • Liam Fox appeared on stage with the Ukip leader at a Leave campaign rally
  • PM is due back on the renegotiation trail with Demark and Sweden visits
  • But backbenchers blast Cameron for ‘tinkering’ and ignoring their fears
  • Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon warns against a repeat of ‘Project Fear’ 
  • See more news on Nigel Farage as he campaigns to leave the EU 

Tory splits on Europe widened today as scores of backbenchers protested the Prime Minister was ignoring their concerns and a former leadership contender said it was ‘sad’ to see David Cameron ‘begging’ around EU capitals.

Liam Fox, who appeared on stage with Ukip leader Nigel Farage at a Leave campaign rally, criticised suggestions Mr Cameron could end up changing UK welfare rules to make his renegotiation work.

Senior backbencher John Baron said Mr Cameron was ignoring his party’s concerns and warned the renegotiation was a ‘great opportunity missed’.

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Liam Fox, right with Ukip leader Nigel Farage at last night's Leave campaign event, said the Prime Minister should not be 'begging' his EU partners for a deal

Liam Fox, right with Ukip leader Nigel Farage at last night’s Leave campaign event, said the Prime Minister should not be ‘begging’ his EU partners for a deal

In his first speech of the Leave campaign, pictured, Dr Fox said he was 'angry' and 'sad' to see Mr Cameron pleading for concessions 

In his first speech of the Leave campaign, pictured, Dr Fox said he was ‘angry’ and ‘sad’ to see Mr Cameron pleading for concessions

Speaking in Kettering last night, Dr Fox warned: ‘The very best that the Prime Minister can get in this renegotiation is better membership of the wrong club.

‘It is not worthless but it is not a reason to stay in the European Union.’

The former defence secretary continued: ‘If you cannot make your own laws, if you cannot control your own borders, you are not an independent, sovereign nation and I want to live in an independent sovereign nation.’

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Baron warned the House of Commons would remain on track toward being ‘nothing more than a political chamber of the European Parliament’.

Mr Baron said Mr Cameron was ‘tinkering’ on welfare reforms instead of tackling the big issues.

He warned: ‘The refusal to engage with his own backbenchers contradicts those of us who campaigned in the last parliament for a referendum in this – believing time was needed for a meaningful discussion and renegotiation and then for the subsequent debate.

‘Instead, No 10 ignores contributions – what could it be afraid of? Such an approach epitomises the EU’s democratic deficit, but we had not expected it of our own government.’

Elsewhere today, Scottish first minster Nicola Sturgeon warned on the BBC One Andrew Marr programme David Cameron risked losing the EU referendum if he repeated the ‘Project Fear’ tactics used by the Better Together campaign in the 2014 independence referendum.

She said: ‘In the referendum on Europe, the two campaigns are much closer to start with.

‘If the In campaign falls into the trap of the No campaign, I fear it will lose.’

Senior eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin derided what was on offer by the Prime Minister.

He told Radio 4’s World This Weekend: “We are so obviously in a panic period now trying to dress up the outcome of this renegotiation as something when it is likely to be virtually nothing.

“Whatever is decided at this renegotiation because there is going to be no treaty change that is binding upon the other member states, the law of the European Union will not actually have changed.

“And, once we have voted in a referendum to remain, if we do, there is absolutely nothing to stop the European Union tearing up whatever’s agreed and going back to what there was before.”

 EU referendum: Sturgeon’s warning for the In campaign

Nicola Sturgeon, on today's Andrew Marr programme, warned against the In campaign mimicking the 'negative' Better Together campaign

Mr Cameron is due to return to the renegotiation trail this week with visits to Denmark and Sweden.

The latest visits come ahead of next month’s EU summit – which Mr Cameron has targeted to conclude the renegotiation.

The Sunday Times reported Chancellor George Osborne was closing in on a deal for ‘permanent handbrake’ on the extension of EU laws.

One version of the proposal is to cut the level at which countries can halt new laws to nations representing 20 per cent of European populations – potentially meaning Britain and Poland alone could halt new rules.

At the moment EU rules say a grouping of 35 per cent of the population can halt proposals – more than all those outside the eurozone.

A senior government source told the Sunday Times: ‘People talk about an emergency brake on immigration but this is a permanent brake.

‘This isn’t one part of the renegotiation, it is the main part of the renegotiation. George can’t say this publicly but he thinks this is the only bit that matters.’

Mr Cameron's talks have come under greater pressure as the migrant crisis re-emerged in public view. Pictured: A line of migrants snakes along a street as they cross the Slovenian-Austrian border as European leaders admitted the EU's porous borders could cause it to collapse under the pressure


  Squalid conditions laid bare at migrants camp near Dunkirk


The new exchanges comes as Mr Cameron stepped closer to dropping his key demand for a four-year ban on benefits for migrants in his fight to stay in the EU.

On Friday, The Prime Minister visited Prague for talks with Czech leader Bohuslav Sobotka who revealed the pair had been discussing an ’emergency brake’ instead.

Mr Cameron believes he needs to secure a ‘win’ on limiting migrant benefits if he is to keep the UK in the EU in a referendum to be held as early as June.

But the Czech leader admitted the four-year benefits ban may not fair on EU citizens but hinted he could back the ’emergency brake’.

The policy would allow Britain and other EU states to cut off the flow of benefits to migrants if there was ‘immense pressure on its social welfare system’, he said.

He added: ‘The UK has introduced their proposal… we discussed other possible alternatives to meet the same objective… make it possible for the UK government to respond to the mass influx of workers’.

He said: ‘It is very important for us that any solution that is adopted on a European level does not discriminate.’

 ‘In no hurry for EU deal’: Cameron addresses Davos audience

Mr Cameron - pictured on Friday with Czech leader Bohuslav Sobotka - is due to continue his renegotiation tour this week with visits to Denmark and Sweden

  Czech PM: Considering emergency brake for social benefits


The brake would be controversial Britain would probably have to prove there were difficulties in its labour market or economy before Brussels would allow the brake to be applied.

A blanket four-year ban would give Mr Cameron the control he wants over benefits.

At a joint press conference Mr Cameron said he had not dumped his four-year rule – a key plank of his renogiation – but admitted he was a ‘practical man’ and ‘welcomed’ alternatives.

He said any other deal would have to have the same effect.

Last month his four-year wish looked dead in the water after EU President Donald Tusk said the four-year plan ‘seems unacceptable’ – and Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker sai: ‘The commission is ready to look for other options.’

Today Mr Cameron said he would not rush an agreement if it was not ‘available’ in time for the Brussels summit on February 18.

But he indicated he still thought a deal was possible by then, pointing to the ‘goodwill’ of other states.

‘I firmly believe there is a pathway to an agreement. I am confident that with the help of European partners and with goodwill we will be able to get there and find mutually satisfactory conclusions,’ he said.

It came as French prime minister Manuel Valls warned the huge influx of migrants from Syria and Iraq is putting the future of the European Union in ‘grave danger’.

He said the UK was ‘happy to do more’ to strengthen external EU border controls, even though it is not part of the Schengen border-free zone which covers most of the continent.

Schengen is a cornerstone of the European project and allows people to pass through the inner EU countries without showing a passport.

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