3 Feb 2016

David Cameron: emergency brake will reduce net migration

The Prime Minister, interviewed for Channel 4 News, says he is confident that his temporary emergency brake on in-work benefits will reduce net migration. It was a promise he’d made for the four-year ban policy before he had to drop it. But he hadn’t committed himself to this on the compromise worked out with Brussels. He didn’t seem that ready to commit when I first asked.

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He’s clearly working on what he hopes will be a rabbit from the hat moment when he unveils a Sovereignty Act, though it is fair to say a lot of legal opinion laughs at the idea you can simply assert primacy over Europe with a fresh law. Mr Cameron said he’s got the best lawyers working for him in the Government and he rather prefers their judgement.

Earlier, in the Commons, there were 48 Tory MPs who spoke when he was defending his draft agreement. By our tally, 24 of them were for leaving the EU and 24 were for staying in.

We’ve included Boris Johnson in the latter category as he seems to be involved in a bit of choreography which might include him claiming the credit for the Sovereignty Bill.

Number 10 was comforted to note that the “Leave” MPs seemed to lack a single clear message, many sticking to their pet subjects. A good omen, No.10 thinks, for the campaign.

One notable moment came when the Prime Minister urged MPs to obey their conscience not their local membership, an appeal over the heads of the grassroots who on this one he suspects are in the other camp.

That’s a reminder that the great spur for this initiative: managing a party split. The referendum calmed it down in the run-up to and through the election but  it is unlikely to end up removing the problem.

The die-hard Out campaigners on the Tory benches and in the constituencies aren’t going to down weaponry and give up the fight if they lose in June. A really big defeat, bigger than 60-40 (sometimes talked about in Remain circles and Leave circles) might make things subdued for a bit.

But a tighter 50-something/40-something defeat would lead to little change in the daily messaging habits of confirmed critics of the EU.

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