Tory MPs have lashed out at David Cameron over his claim that sceptical Britons will eventually come round to staying in the EU.
The prime minister said he was convinced that while many people were worried about the EU now, attitudes would change ahead of the in-out referendum which is likely to happen next year.
He told The Spectator: "I think with both the eurozone crisis and the migration crisis, the short-term impact is for people to think 'Oh Christ, push Europe away from me, it's bringing me problems'.
"I think the longer-term reaction might actually be 'Well, if they are going to have a single currency and they're on our doorstep, and they are going to try and make it work, let's make sure our relationship with them works.'"
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, vice president of the Vote Leave campaign, was not impressed. He told BuzzFeed News: "I think it's wishful thinking on his part.
"All the evidence shows that once people have made up their minds to leave the EU, they tend not to change their minds – and the evidence is stacking up against the EU every day.
"These aren't just passing problems. The eurozone crisis, the Schengen area, the UK's own migration crisis – these are direct consequences of the European Union as it is now. And the prime minister has no plans to change anything fundamental."
Asked what he thought the chances were of Britain leaving the EU, Jenkin said: "Improving every day."
The PM's comments were seen as his most overt support yet for the UK to remain in the EU – even though officially he has not ruled out campaigning for an "out" vote. On Thursday he visited Poland in the latest leg of his EU renegotiation tour, following a trip to Romania on Wednesday.
But he is struggling to persuade EU member states to back his proposal for migrants to wait four years before they can claim in-work benefits. It means that a deal is unlikely at next week's EU summit in Brussels. Cameron has promised a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU by the end of 2017.
Steve Baker, chair of the Conservatives for Britain campaign, also criticised Cameron's remarks. He said: "The EU is in freefall and the prime minister promised us fundamental change. It's fanciful to think the British public will be persuaded to accept nothing as if it was something worth having."
Tory MP Philip Davies added: "The PM is entitled to his opinion but I think he is wrong. People will get increasingly fed up of paying more and more money every year to an ever declining part of the world's economy."
Robert Oxley, a spokesperson for the Vote Leave campaign, said Cameron's renegotiation was a sham. "The government's own economic advisers, the Office for Budget Responsibility, have said the renegotiation won't have an impact on key issues," he said. "So it is sublime that the PM is so confident that the public will be fooled by the smokescreen of his renegotiation."
Cameron wants to see four major changes from the EU – to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, exempt Britain from "ever closer union", protect the single market for non-eurozone countries, and slash red tape for businesses. It is the first of these which is causing him problems.
The PM said on Thursday: "We don't yet have agreement, it is going to take time, but I do feel we have the goodwill to reach an agreement that will be of benefit to the British people."
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at email@example.com.
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