Boris Johnson has again burnished his Eurosceptic credentials by refusing to back David Cameron’s draft EU deal, declaring “there is a lot more to do” to get a good deal for Britain.
Speaking to reporters outside his home, the Mayor of London appeared in his trademark woolly hat to once more tweak the Prime Minister’s tail over the proposals from Brussels.
With Eurosceptic Tory MPs lining up to slam the deal overnight, Johnson said: “The Prime Minister is making the best of a bad job. Most people looking at this will think there’s a lot more to do.”
The Uxbridge MP once more refused to say if he’d join the ‘Leave’ campaign in the coming EU referendum.
And asked if there was anything ‘good’ or ‘positive’ in the Cameron deal with EU Council chief Donald Tusk, Johnson replied: “Errrm…..”
He added, ominously, “Let’s wait and see when this whole thing is agreed. And see what it really means - every bit of it”.
Johnson’s words mean that he’s the last big figure in the future Tory leadership race who is still reserving judgement on the PM’s bid to reset relations between the UK and Brussels.
Home Secretary Theresa May on Tuesday night finally signalled her willingness to back the ‘In’ campaign, saying that the deal ‘forms the basis’ for an agreement.
But the Mayor still has concerns over how strongly the UK can in future reject fresh laws coming out of Brussels, with a ‘red card’ system to allow Westminster to assert its supremacy over the EU.
Even before the EU draft deal was announced on Tuesday, Boris had already said he wanted to see ‘much, much more’ to protect the independence of Britain.
No.10 is braced for backbench Tory criticism of the Prime Minister when he delivers a Commons statement on the EU plans. On Tuesday, one leading critic Steve Baker accused Cameron of "polishing poo".
Cameron hailed ‘real progress’ in the draft deal, pointing to new curbs on migrant benefits, protections for the pound, an explicit end to ‘ever closer union’ and fresh powers to keep out suspected criminals and terrorists.
But Tory MPs backing ‘Brexit’ have ridiculed the claims and pointed out that migrants will be able to claim ‘graduated’ levels of tax credits, and that child benefit will still be paid to them.
Boris is seen by the ‘Leave’ camps as the kind of high profile figure they need to connect with voters over the issue, and many Conservative constituency associations will be watching keenly to see if manifesto pledges are delivered on cracking down on EU migrants.
In a separate move, the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland joined forces to demand that Cameron does not hold the EU referendum in June.
Nicola Sturgeon, Arlene Foster and Carwyn Jones said that to do so would be a distraction from their own elections in May.