Fresh from the two-day summit that saw European leaders back a British deal to save a so-called ‘Brexit’, Portugal’s prime minister António Costa gave a press conference, saying “The battle of Britain begins now”.
And he could not have put it better.
Within less than 24-hours of David Cameron’s return home with the details of the Special Statute that he claims will make Britain “safer and stronger” by remaining in the European Union, all hell broke loose with key cabinet members joining the “out” campaign, the pound falling against the dollar to its lowest level in seven years and opinion polls showing people in UK are not wildly impressed by their prime minister’s arguments.
The news that zany outgoing Mayor of London Boris Johnson – tipped to be the next Tory prime minister – was also against staying in the EU has thrown even more doubts as to the way ahead.
Britain is now locked in a countdown to the June 23 referendum that Portugal’s PM Costa has suggested will lead to “a much closer union”.
But the nation’s popular press is not so sure.
The country’s best-read tabloid has been running leader articles on negotiations and what they mean, and this far there is scant enthusiasm for Britain’s special deal.
Far from forging a closer union, Correio da Manhã’s ‘grande reporter’ José Rodrigues suggests the UK’s special statute will simply “make the English Channel wider” – and elsewhere visiting contributors have all suggested Britain’s deal signals the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and the eventual breakdown of the union as a whole.
Not venturing into this territory, Costa used his press conference to stress that none of Cameron’s concessions would reduce benefits or the financial situation of any Portuguese already living in the UK.
“None of the current (Portuguese) migrants will suffer any reduction to their remuneratory level”, he said.
As TVI 24 explained, it will simply be that “in future, the UK will treat older residents “in an unequal way” to more recent arrivals.
As to the emergency brake on migrant benefits, this “will only be applied by co-decision, by consensus, of the European Council and European Parliament” and “in a situation where the country was living exceptional circumstances”, said Costa, suggesting this meant when the social security system “could not face all its necessities”.