After months of negotiations, a draft deal on the UK’s membership of the European Union was presented this week.
The deal, which still needs to be agreed by leaders of the 27 other EU states, sees changes in the so-called “four baskets” which David Cameron was pushing for: protection for non-eurozone countries; competitiveness; sovereignty; and benefits for migrants.
It is the last of these baskets which has generated much of the debate, with an proposed “emergency brake” on new migrants claiming in-work benefits if immigration is deemed to be too high derided as ineffective and weak by Cameron’s critics.
The PM will be hoping to get the agreement of other EU leaders at a summit on February 18 and 19, and if he does get a collective nod, the referendum could take place on June 23.
Tory backbencher Steve Baker – chairman of Conservatives For Britain and heavily involved in the Vote Leave campaign – told the Commons the Prime Minister was “polishing poo” by presenting the agreement as a good deal.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said “much more needed to be done” in order to give powers back to the UK parliament, but during the Commons debate on the deal on Wednesday the Prime Minister seemed to offer an olive branch on the issue.
Former Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke, one of the country’s most high-profile pro-Europeans, told Commons People that nothing the Prime Minister achieved would please some of his critics.
He also predicted Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith would campaign for the UK to leave the EU, and joked: “If he said he was going to bring back a statue in gold, life-sized, of Iain Duncan Smith as tribute to the nation, Iain Duncan Smith, who used to act as a whip for the Maastricht rebels, would be Out. I’m afraid that’s true of most of the backbenchers.”
While many were getting their head round the detail of the deal, one of the Leave campaign groups – Vote Leave – was having a reshuffle of its leadership.
Former Chancellor Lord Lawson has been brought in to head up the campaign after it was reported a number of MPs were unhappy with how the organisation was being run.
After his "bunch of migrants" comments, David Cameron stirred up another storm at PMQs this week when he claimed some people living on benefits do so as a "lifestyle choice".