To be or not to be together - mixed views from the region about European Union reform blueprint

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media after an EU summit in Brussels on Friday,

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the media after an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) - Credit: AP

As the blueprint for a new deal between the UK and the European Union is published, has Political Editor Annabelle Dickson looks at what it is and gauges the reaction

Like the population at large, reaction to long-awaited Brussels blueprint in the protracted European Union negotiation was mixed.

True to form, the Eurosceptics remained sceptical.

'It is yet another dilution of a dilution of a dilution. Cameron only asked for four things and he has not got back from Tusk what he asked for,' Norfolk farmer and UK Independence Party MEP Stuart Agnew said.

But leaving little room for doubt that he would campaign to remain, the prime minister insisted yesterday that Britain could be 'better off, more secure, more prosperous' in the EU under the terms of the new reform package.


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Even his home secretary Theresa May signalled she could campaign to remain saying the agreement was the 'basis for a deal'.

One senior Conservative joked that it was like a game of poker, and many MPs are still keeping their cards close to their chest and their options open.

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Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman said they were still in the midst of the crucial negotiation phase of the prime minister's reform mission with much still to be sorted. He was looking forward to listening to a statement due in the House of Commons today.

Former foreign office minister and North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said that while he thought progress had been made, a red line for him was getting back more control over UK borders.

He signalled that an emergency brake on benefits was not enough to satisfy him.

'I do not see how we are going to significantly reduce numbers of migrants unless we can regain some significant control over our borders,' he said. 'My idea of the emergency brake was a brake on migrants coming here, not a brake on getting benefits. I am hoping to vote to stay in, but it is more unlikely now. But I still live in hope.'

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, another eurosceptic who conducted a lecture tour of Germany in 2004 on the issue, said he wanted to live in a country where we 'make our own laws, set our own taxes and control our own borders'.

'That is the acid test I will be applying.'

'For me it is quite a high hurdle because I think we should be a self-governing democracy and decisions about how we govern ourselves should be made by us and not others.'

But he said that he would wait and hear what the prime minister had to say.

Luke Morris, a partner at accountancy firm Larking Gowen and part of the eurosceptic Business for Britain campaign in the East of England. described the proposed changes as 'trivial'. 'They are not going to deliver the fundamental change the UK needs in its relationship with the EU. Business is clear that the EU agenda of harmonisation and integration has failed: leading to excessive regulation and the smothering of competition.

'The British people want to take back control of our borders, our economy and our democracy. Nothing on this list addresses these issues.'

But Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb said that while he was frequently frustrated by the EU and would always argue the case for reform, he wanted to remain for reasons including the economic risks of leaving and his belief that the big challenges of migration and climate change and problems like companies moving profits could not be solved by countries on their own.

While Richard Howitt, Labour's Euro MP for the East, said he thought the draft deal went further than the eurosceptics would have expected or predicted. He called for his party to have a constructive response to the proposals.

'I want to see it [the referendum] happen as quickly as possible with room for what I hope can still be a decent, fair and rational debate.' He said he had been in meetings with Italian colleagues in the parliament yesterday who he said realised there needed to be a compromise. 'They recognise there will be referendum in Britain. I am happy they want to work to keep Britain in Europe'.

In the run up to the referendum we want to write about how the European Union directly affects you – good and bad. Email political editor annabelle.dickson@archant.co.uk with your stories.

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