Eurosceptic ministers, liberated from collective ministerial responsibility for the first time over the weekend, have started to set out the case they will make in the months ahead for Britain taking back control of its destiny outside the European Union.
They also launched a full-throated attack on the deal struck on Friday night by David Cameron in Brussels.
As Iain Duncan Smith, Dominic Raab, Michael Gove and other Eurosceptic ministers toured the weekend broadcast studios in a well coordinated attack, their collective view seemed to be that Cameron had done his best in Brussels, but his deal would not stem the flow of migration, safeguard the City of London or even be legally enforceable. Generally the tone was respectful of the prime minister, aware the Tory party will have to reunify after June’s referendum, but the their differences with the prime minister were sharp.
In perhaps the newest attack on the Brussels deal, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said many of the key details on the restrictions on access to welfare for EU migrants remained to be worked out, making it impossible to calculate its impact or cost.
David Cameron, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, admitted the commitment to end EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits for four years would not apply to existing claimants already in Britain and new claimants may receive some in-work benefits from day one of their arrival. The Conservative manifesto pledged to end access to all in-work benefits for at least four years.
Asked on BBC1 to say if a new EU claimant would be able to receive 90% of the tax credits available to a UK claimant, Cameron did not have an answer.
He said the new restrictions will come into force in 2017 and last for seven years. But it has also been agreed new claimants will start receiving in-work tax credits on a graduated basis.
Duncan Smith honed in on this loophole: “There will be a short period which new entrants from the EU cannot receive in-work benefits, but then there is a sliding scale, and the detail on this has not been decided yet. That is the trouble. I would like to have had this thrashed out now. Will they receive 50% or 25% of the full rate? The prime minister had made it clear that all these things will be decided later.” As a result he said he did not know how much of the existing cost of paying tax credits to EU citizens will remain.
DWP sources also questioned whether the already complex Universal Credit system will be able to cope with paying different rates according to the length of time an EU migrant has been in the country.
Separately, a new multi-layered system will have to be introduced from 2020 to pay child benefit to EU citizens working in the UK for their children not living in the UK. The child benefit will not rise in line with UK rises but instead the cost of living in 27 EU states. Duncan Smith said “I would be a liar to say this is not complex” adding the details of the exchange rate has not been agreed.
The doubts led Chris Grayling, the Leader of the Commons, to claim the UK population is still likely to rise, adding Britain is already over full.
In a bid to counter the claim that Britain will be safer if it remains inside the EU capable of cooperating with European anti-terror organisations, Duncan Smith countered that a system of open borders that does not allow us to check and control people who may come and may spend time was not safe either. “We see what happened Paris where they spent ages planning and plotting,” he said.
The justice minister, Dominic Raab, saying he wanted Britain to be master of its own destiny, said the scare stories on security were laughable: “It is inconceivable that European leaders would not want the closest possible cooperation with us over dealing with terrorism”.
Michael Gove, the justice secretary, also tackled the security issue head on writing: “Far from providing security in an uncertain world, the EU’s policies have become a source of instability and insecurity. Razor-wire once more criss-crosses the continent, historic tensions between nations such as Greece and Germany have resurfaced in ugly ways and the EU is proving incapable of dealing with the current crises in Libya and Syria.”
Raab and Priti Patel, the employment minister, also questioned claims that Cameron could construct a means of ensuring the UK parliament will be sovereign over Brussels laws. “A basic cardinal rule of EU law is that it trumps domestic law,” Patel said – adding this was irreconcilable with UK sovereignty. “By remaining, we are still exposed to the European court and European institutions dictating to us and still doing business under the same terms and conditions.”
David Davis ridiculed the importance of Britain’s opt-out from ever-closer union, pointing out that Britain had already negotiated opt-outs on the euro and Schengen. He said: “Both of these were negotiated by John Major 20 years ago and there has been no suggestion since that we should be forced to join them. No other example is offered for good reason. There are none.”
Open Europe, the Eurosceptic thinktank, also gave only a qualified approval: “Those outside the eurozone and banking union should not be discriminated against, will not participate in eurozone bail-outs and can keep their own financial supervision macro pro prudential regulation.”
But it added: “If the UK protests about a decision taken by the eurozone countries, it can demand a discussion at the European council, but if no consensus is reached the proposal can go ahead.”
Eurosceptic ministers also questioned whether the deal was legally enforceable, pointing to remarks by the French president, François Holland, that the deal might never be put into the form of a treaty or provide the UK with special status inside Europe.
So far the ministers have avoided arguments descending into personal abuse, but there are may months of this to go.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 22nd February 2016 07.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010