|* Paul WAUGH|
by Paul WAUGH | Politics
As the UK’s most important partner and constructive critic, Angela Merkel has long warned David Cameron that his migrant benefit curb plans are a real problem. And yesterday the PM said ‘Ja’ and wobbled (the Sun depicts him as a jelly).
He also blinked first (the Indy) and paved the way for a retreat (HuffPost, FT and many others). However you describe it, Cameron was backing off his key manifesto promise of a four-year ban on EU migrants claiming in-work benefits. Let’s see if the Germans can come up with an alternative he can sell to the British public.
I’ve blogged on the background to the wobble and how the PM has played with fire on the issue of migration for so long that he risks getting burned. And burned he was in the Commons yesterday as Eurosceptic after Eurosceptic got up to deride his ‘thin gruel’ of an EU reform package.
In fact it was poor old Europe minister David Lidington who was forced to act as a heatshield, but was left looking like a chocolate fireguard. Tory MPs hated Cameron’s stress on ‘national security’ almost as much as his retreat on migration.
What may worry the PM most are the Sun, Mail and Telegraph. The Mail’s leader says this was ‘a pathetic list of timid requests’ and ‘he’s thrown in the towel before the bell has sounded for Round One’. The Telegraph says Cameron ‘has given up on trying to make real changes’.
The Sun demands ‘border controls’ and says Cam ‘aimed low and missed’. But No.10 insiders say each of these papers has a real problem too: will they urge voters to vote Leave, and risk being on the losing side (which no paper likes to do)? Boris too has a similar problem: does he follow through his criticisms and lead a Brexit campaign? And if loses the campaign but wins the Tory leadership, won’t he face constant demands for a fresh referendum?
In a prelude to the coming battle, No.10 put out an exhaustive rebuttal document pointing out 16 mistakes in Vote Leave’s own response to the PM’s speech. Expect more robust exchanges between Downing St and Dom Cummings’ team. As for the DWP stats used yesterday on EU migrant benefits, some are already pointing to their flaws. The Indy reports that website FullFact has reported the DWP to the UK Statistics Authority.
* Paul Waugh is the Executive Editor, Politics, HuffPost UK.