Europe Minister David Lidington was accused of "polishing poo" today by a Tory colleague as he set out details of the Government's EU renegotiation deal to MPs.
Steve Baker, chair of the eurosceptic Conservatives For Britain group, made the claim in the House of Commons this afternoon as he gave his view on the draft agreement.
Mr Lidington was left stuttering at the Despatch Box as he tried to respond to Mr Baker - who was one of a string of Tory eurosceptics to pour scorn on the deal.
European Commission President Donald Tusk this morning published the draft deal agreed between himself and the UK Government ahead of referendum, now expected to be held in June.
But while some welcomed the restrictions on in-work benefits to migrants under certain circumstances and the increase in power for national parliaments, Mr Baker took a different view.
He said: "This in-at-all-costs deal looks funny, it smells funny, it might be superficially shiny on the outside but poke it and it’s soft in the middle. Will my Right Honourable Friend admit to the House that he has been reduced to polishing poo?
Mr Lidington responded: "No, I don’t and I rather suspect that whatever kind of statement or response to question had been delivered by me or any of my colleagues from the Despatch Box my Honourable Friend would have been polishing that particular question many days ago."
Mr Baker was not the only Tory to express reservations over the draft deal.
Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme the deal did not address his concerns about the UK’s relationship with the EU.
He said: “What I have wanted to see for a very long time is a much more flexible relationship with Europe, I’ve wanted to see powers coming back to the United Kingdom, and what we have previously campaigned for was to return some so-called competences from EU to UK level and there’s nothing of that kind in the document.
"So I don’t want to be churlish because I think David Cameron has clearly achieved some important improvements, but they are not on a scale that begins to address the concerns that I have.”
When asked if he would back leaving the EU, Mr Brady replied: “That is my expectation.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson told LBC radio this morning there is “much, much more, however, that needs to be done” ahead of the referendum vote.
Mr Johnson – who has yet to say whether he backs the UK leaving the EU – seemed unhappy with the proposed ‘red card system’ which would require national parliaments to work together to block legislation.
He said: “I think what would be better would be if we had a break of our own that we were willing to use and that we were more willing to say, Britain’s an independent sovereign country and we don’t agree with this particular piece of regulation or legislation and we want to stop it. And that’s what we should be able to do.”
Peter Lilley, who served as a Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, questioned the legality of restricting in-work benefits to EU migrants.
Speaking on the BBC, he said: “We were told that we couldn’t introduce reforms like this because they conflicted with the treaty. If that’s the case, then these reforms will conflict with the treaty and within a few months of their being applied someone will apply to the European Court of Justice and they’ll be found to be incompatible with the treaty and struck down.
“If, alternatively, we were misled all the while and they are compatible with the treaty, we don’t need these negotiations, we could have introduced them ourselves immediately or last year or the year before.
“So I’m puzzled by this and I hope we’ll receive greater clarification on whether this is actually viable in the long run or whether we could have done this in the past anyway."
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