David Cameron has formally set out his shopping list of demands from the EU – and many Tory MPs don’t like it much.
Conservative backbenchers lined up in the House of Commons to warn that the prime minister's package of reforms doesn't go far enough.
Cameron has vowed to secure changes to the EU ahead of the in-out referendum on Britain's membership, which is planned before 2017.
In a speech in London on Tuesday, he set out four major reforms: restricting benefits for EU migrants, exempting the UK from the "ever closer union" principle, protecting the UK from eurozone integration, and cutting the burden on business. He also set out his demands in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk.
But he appeared to water down the Tory manifesto commitment to ban EU migrants from claiming benefits for four years – saying he was "open to different ways of dealing with this issue".
The European Commission warned that Cameron's plans to restrict benefits were "highly problematic" because they affected freedom of movement rules and led to "direct discrimination between EU citizens".
Cameron has not set a date for the referendum but told journalists he wanted to "get on with it". He hopes to use a European Council summit next month to convince other EU leaders to back his reforms.
The PM said: "This is perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes."
Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg said the demands were "pretty thin gruel – much less than people had come to expect from the government".
To cheers from fellow Tories, he said: "It seems to me that its whole aim is to make Harold Wilson's renegotiation look respectable. It needs to do more. It needs to have a full list of powers that will be restored to the United Kingdom and to this parliament, not vacuously to parliaments plural."
Other Tory MPs were equally scathing. Sir Bill Cash, chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, warned that treaty change was needed for "virtually every proposal" – yet treaty change was "not on offer". He said: "How is he going to be able to sell this pig in a poke?"
Peter Lilley accused Cameron of simply calling for "symbolic" changes. "Will he instead focus on getting back powers which are not required to run a common trading area so that this parliament can make more of our own laws?" he said.
Bernard Jenkin said simply: "After all the statements made by the prime minister, the foreign secretary, the former foreign secretary, about being in Europe but not run by Europe – the pledge to restore the primacy of national parliaments, the pledge to get an opt out from the charter of fundamental rights, to restore our borders.
"After all that – is that it? Is that the sum total of the government's position in the renegotiation?"
Steve Baker MP, chair of the anti-EU "Conservatives for Britain" group, told BuzzFeed News: "The government's proposals fall far short of the red lines which Lord Lawson and I set out. Many colleagues will hope for a last-minute rabbit from the hat, but I will campaign to leave."
Unsurprisingly, Cameron also faced fire from UKIP and campaign groups pushing for a British exit from the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said it was "clear that Mr Cameron is not aiming for any substantial renegotiation". He added: "No promise to regain the supremacy of parliament. Nothing on ending the free movement of people. And no attempt to reduce Britain's massive contribution to the EU budget.
"His speech was an attempt to portray a new 'third way' relationship with Brussels that is simply not on offer."
Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave, said: "The public wants the end of the supremacy of EU law, to take back control of our democracy, and to spend the money wasted in Brussels on our priorities like the NHS and science.
"Cameron's renegotiation isn't even asking for this – he is only promising to change what the EU has already agreed to give him. People won't trust his spin. The safest choice is to Vote Leave."
A spokesperson for the rival Leave.EU campaign added: "In the 45 minutes that he spoke, he made no mention of the issues that our supporters are so passionate about: making our own decisions in parliament, reducing our membership fee and being able to control our borders. What he did ask for was a series of written confirmations of the status quo."
Boris Johnson, a potential Tory leadership contender after Cameron steps down before the next election, warned that the coming months would be "tough".
Speaking on a visit to Israel, the London mayor said: "There will be a long period now of quite scratchy negotiations. I think there will come a great sort of juddering moment – there will be blood all over the carpet at some point in Brussels.
"I don't know when that will happen but I hope very much that we will get the deal by the end of next year."
Labour's shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden said there was "nothing" Cameron could renegotiate that would satisfy his eurosceptic MPs.
"They are desperate to be disappointed and they are here in the House today," he said. "Their only role in this debate is to push for demands they know will not be met."
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron added: "The prime minister must now stand up to the europhobes on his back benches and negotiate an acceptable package of changes and persuade the British public to support it."
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Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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