EU referendum deal under microscope - newspaper headlines

Photograph of the draft agreement Image copyright AP

David Cameron's claims to have secured "substantial change" for the UK in his renegotiation of the terms of EU membership come under close scrutiny.

The Independent reproduces the text of the draft agreement in full. Thankfully, for those unaccustomed to poring over international agreements, its political editor Oliver Wright interprets key passages such as one dictating that limitation of in-work benefits to new migrants "should be graduated, from an initial complete exclusion".

As Wright puts it: "Cameron has been forced to give ground on the issue. While benefits will be 'limited' for four years, migrant workers will be entitled to some in-work benefits before then. In fact, the total ban on benefits will last only two years."

The Guardian draws up a list of "bold comments, half promises and pledges" made by the prime minister since 2009 - including limiting the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction, revising the working time directive and reforming the common Agricultural policy - and concludes that "only a handful" have been delivered in the draft plan.

The Telegraph hears an echo of Harold Wilson's declaration, ahead of the 1975 referendum on Europe, that he would not "pretend that we got everything we wanted" but that he'd secured "big and significant improvements". The paper says: "In one way, though, Mr Cameron has departed from the Wilsonian script. Unlike his Labour predecessor, he refuses to accept that he has got anything other than a great deal."

It all leads the Daily Mail to conclude that the PM's "capacity for self-delusion is breathtaking". It goes on: "At the risk of embarrassing him, may we remind him that he promised at his party's 2014 conference that the next Tory government would cut immigration, repeal the Human Rights Act and repatriate powers from Brussels."

The Daily Express says the 373,000 readers who joined its "crusade" to leave the EU, will be "deeply disappointed by the paltry renegotiation efforts" of the PM. "The only good thing that can be said for his efforts is that they clear the way for a referendum this summer. We say bring it on. The sooner our crusade ends in victory the better."

"It stinks," says the Sun, describing the deal as "a dismal failure worse than we ever imagined" because it will neither limit immigration nor reverse "the erosion of British powers by the EU".

It continues: "The EU is in disarray, under siege from refugees and with extremism surging. Brussels knows Britain leaving this summer would be a disaster at best and fatal at worst. There was never going to be a better moment for Mr Cameron. But EU chief Donald Tusk saw him coming. He was like the used car dealer who knows that at heart you really want his overpriced motor - and that any haggling will be for show. He knocks £50 off . . . and still takes you to the cleaners."

The Times notes the document was drafted by Mr Tusk, rather than the UK government, and says this "betrays a depressing truth" that: "Mr Cameron has approached it from the start as a supplicant, not a true reformer."

The Daily Mirror also criticises Mr Cameron, but for different reasons: "There is a good case for Britain remaining in Europe ahead of a mooted June referendum, yet the PM isn't communicating it when he's more interested in presentation than substance. His impending retirement and avoiding a fatal split in the Tories are higher on his agenda than the nation's future prosperity."

There is some support, however, in the Financial Times. It says: "For all the criticism, Mr Cameron looks set to secure a reasonable deal for Britain... In each of the areas where he has sought reform, the prime minister has made tangible progress." Safeguards against the eurozone imposing unwelcome financial regulations on the wider EU are "particularly important", says the paper.

The Daily Star, meanwhile, makes no mention of the deal.

'Campaign mode'

Sketchwriters were in attendance to hear the prime minister deliver his verdict on the agreement. But Patrick Kidd, of the Times, could find no sign of him in the Commons. He instead listened to descriptions of the deal from Conservative Eurosceptics Bill Cash - "a pint-sized package", Steve Baker - "polishing poo" and Jacob Rees-Mogg - "short on substance", and concludes nothing would have pleased them.

"If Mr Tusk had agreed to give back Calais, ban the sale of garlic and make Dad's Army compulsory viewing throughout Europe on a Saturday night, there would still have been some quibble," he writes.

Image copyright Reuters

Meanwhile, the Guardian's John Crace was in a "large shed in a Chippenham industrial estate". "Where better for David Cameron to launch his 'deal in our time'?" he wonders. "Just far enough from Westminster to avoid any tricky questions in parliament from his own Eurosceptic MPs, and close enough to London to be home in next to no time."

"To show he meant business, Dave slipped off his jacket and clapped his hands. Much like a sports coach trying to convince the under-13s that they are still in the game, even though they are 27-1 down at half time."

"David Cameron in his shirtsleeves on a factory floor can only mean one thing: the prime minister is back in campaign mode," writes Francis Elliott, in the Times.

However, all was not going to plan, as the Mail's Quentin Letts points out. "The Chippenham factory makes railway signals systems. It was rather bad luck that half the London press corps had their train delayed owing to, er, a signals cock-up." He also notes: "Some of the factory's 750 workers had gathered to hear Mr Cameron's speech. A lot were men in white coats. I merely report that. Make of it what you will."

After hearing the PM describe the deal as "basically something I asked for", the Telegraph's Michael Deacon writes: "The key word there is 'basically'. Not 'actually': 'basically'. As in: erm, not quite. I asked for something, and I didn't get it. But I more or less got something that's sort of a bit vaguely like it. And that's enough, isn't it? You'll take that, won't you? Basically?"

With Mr Cameron having hailed the "emergency brake" on benefits payments to migrants, the Independent's Tom Peck says: "As he made his way back to London, halfway between Reading and Slough, someone pulled it, and the prime minister went nowhere for more than an hour. Whatever signals you choose to read into that are up to you."

'Sham renegotiation'

The effect of the renegotiation on the public is a matter for debate.

Describing the negotiations as "tedious", the concessions as "footling" and the PM as foolish for "putting so many jobs at risk" in a bid to mollify "unappeasable" Eurosceptic backbenchers, the Independent says the merits of EU membership are "beyond dispute". Yet, it says: "All it needs is a few more scare stories about migration - readily available from sections of the press - and the current majority to stay in could switch back."

Jason Beattie complains in the Mirror that Mr Cameron has made life harder for himself with a deal handing his enemies "ammunition". He says: "The promise of a four-year ban on new arrivals claiming benefits carries more riders than the Grand National, including the possibility that child benefit could continue to be paid to children living abroad - a practice the PM had pledged to stop."

For the Daily Mail's Max Hastings it's plain that: "The sham of a renegotiation, the pretence that the prime minister meant what he told us for years about his intention to change our terms of membership of the EU, has spawned a cynicism across the land that will not quickly be dispelled."

But the Guardian reckons anyone likely to have been swayed by the terms of the deal "would have to be a pretty odd fish". Instead, it says, Mr Cameron must make the big arguments: "Namely, that in a world beset by economic, security and ecological problems that show no respect for borders, countries do better by working together, than splitting apart."

The Telegraph also believes the fine details are unlikely to affect the referendum's outcome, and says the PM "demonstrated what a formidable opponent he will be for the Outers". His opponents, it goes on, are currently split and need to switch focus from a renegotiation they have dismissed as a sham to "explain to instinctively cautious voters how Britain would be better off outside the EU".

"Above all, it needs a top-flight politician, a 'big beast' to champion its cause. Who will it be?"

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBuzzfeed's chief political correspondent Emily Ashton and Dan Bilefsky, from the New York Times, give their take on the deal for the BBC News Channel.

In the Daily Express, UKIP leader Nigel Farage sums up the "fundamental issue" in the referendum as: "What kind of country do we want?"

"Do we want a proud, patriotic, independent nation or a mere star on the EU's flag?" he asks. Mr Farage argues that the prime minister's speech effectively declared support for "an EU that would make most of our laws", "joining an organisation with a daily membership fee of £55m" and a policy "to give away control of our territorial waters".

Alan Johnson argues the "in" case in the Mirror, writing: "The fundamentals are clear. British workers are better off and better protected by being in the EU. Our country is safer and better able to confront terrorism, climate change and security challenges when we work with our partners. Leaving would put all of that at risk and diminish Britain's global influence."

Others assess the reaction in Europe. Tom Clark writes in the Guardian that the renegotiation has obsessed over the benefits immigrants take, while disregarding the taxes they pay and the importance of their labour to an ageing society. Limiting their tax credits, he says, "represents the triumph of a mean spirit towards the rest of the world, which will soon enough poison Britain's relations abroad".

The FT argues that while countries such as Poland will argue that limiting in-work benefits is unfair, they must "recognise the risk of trying to push Mr Cameron into further concessions" if they want Britain to remain part of the bloc. And Natalie Nougayrede, of the Guardian, is sure that Paris and Berlin will "smooth the way for Cameron to reach his ultimate strategic goal - which is to avoid going down in history as the prime minister who broke up the EU and possibly the UK".

'Do panic!"

Whatever their views on Europe, plenty of papers find fun in the situation.

After mocking up Mr Cameron as Dad's Army's Capt Mainwaring on its front page, the Sun gives his senior colleagues the same treatment inside, alongside the headline: "EU stupid boy!". "Do panic! Do panic" cries London Mayor Boris Johnson, reimagined as Cpl Jones, while George Osborne - as Sgt Wilson - asks: "Are you sure that's wise, Capt Cameron?"

The Times's front-page cartoon shows a white flag waving from behind the prime minister's desk. Inside, Peter Brookes takes inspiration from the Degas painting L'Absinthe, with the PM seated alongside Boris Johnson - as the portrait's downcast woman - remarking: "Merde Alors! You've watered this right down, haven't you?"

Under the title "Red Card", the Independent's Dave Brown draws Mr Cameron as a magician producing an ace from a hatful of identical cards. Meanwhile, the Telegraph's Bob has the PM as Moses declaring "BEHOLD", while clutching two tiny tablets.

Steve Bell in the Guardian imagines a naked Mr Cameron on rollerskates, lighting a fuse inserted in his rectum to propel him towards the referendum. The Telegraph's Matt, meanwhile, has a couple hiding in the undergrowth at Dover, with the husband telling his wife: "If we sneak onto a lorry we can get out of the country for the referendum."

Eye-catching headlines

  • "End of the road for white lines on highway" - markings are being erased from busy roads by highways chiefs who claim it causes an uncertainty that convinces motorists to drive more cautiously, reports the Times
  • "Big dope grasses himself"- the Daily Star's take on the arrest of a cannabis farmer who set up an extractor fan that send "pungent" fumes into the air outside his house - leading to his detection
  • "Crunch time for snacks as crisp eaters start to favour popcorn" - the Telegraph's take on the nation's changing tastes
  • "Fireman wins Milk Tray selection" - the Express on how a 39-year-old Liverpool firefighter beat off 20,000 hopefuls to become the new face of the Cadbury chocolate box

A 'new Ronald Reagan'?

If readers are sick of European politics, there's plenty to read about the race to become the next person to walk into the White House as US President in a little under a year's time.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is pictured on the Guardian's front page, but Gary Younge describes the "shock of the new normal" in which the establishment candidate faces a strong challenge from the initially unfancied "democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders.

Much of the press focus, however, is on the Republic race where - as the Times puts it - the "anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican rhetoric of Donald Trump did not prevail" in the Iowa caucus. It adds: "Reports of America losing the plot appear to have been exaggerated." Most papers, like the Times, conclude that the man who finished third - Florida senator Marco Rubio - has "established himself at the front of the crowded pack of more moderate Republicans".

Image copyright Reuters

Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley sees him as a "new Ronald Reagan", describing him as "handsome, Hispanic and smart - appealing to conservatives and moderates alike". Still, he notes: "Nearly a quarter of Iowa's Republicans voted for Mr Trump and 28% voted for the even more conservative Ted Cruz."

According to the Independent: "The surge of the young Florida senator in the final days of campaigning reflected a belief among voters that he is the most electable candidate, and the one most capable of unifying a deeply divided party. Despite his victory, Mr Cruz is detested in the upper reaches of the party and shows no signs of being that person."

"The hopes now invested in Mr Rubio are understandable," says the Financial Times. "The nomination for either Mr Trump or Mr Cruz has long been regarded by moderate Republicans as a looming disaster that would gift November's general election to their Democratic rivals."

However, it adds: "Mr Rubio can only be counted as a 'moderate' by the stringent standards of the modern Republican party. He has adopted very conservative positions on issues such as abortion and gun control and has taken an increasingly unforgiving position on immigration.

"It is still a very long and uncertain road to the White House for Senator Rubio."

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