History lesson on how to claim an EU deal

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Chancellor George Osborne claims to have won a victory over the hard-headed Brussels Eurocrats by halving the sum of £1.7bn which they demanded from Britain.

But Labour have insisted Osborne’s boast is all smoke and mirrors and he has saved nothing.

Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor claims the UK will not benefit one penny from Osborne’s efforts. It is, I must say, difficult to work out which of the two is right. The finances of the European Union are in such a shambles - their own auditors have refused to sign off their returns for years now - that nothing is as simple as it might look.

Osborne says he has halved the amount demanded, that the original deadline of December 1 has been abandoned, and that Britain will also benefit from other concessions. I must admit to have achieved all that in the space of a single day in the face of such obdurate and, in many cases, hostile people seemed almost too good to be true.

Too often in the past, ministers from both Labour and Conservative-led Governments have emerged from talks in Brussels crowing about their triumphs, only for us to discover later, on closer examination, such was not the case.

No doubt we will find out sooner or later whether Osborne’s claims are justified. Therefore I shall reserve my judgement.

Michael Portillo might not agree, but I think one of the best things to have happened to him was his shock defeat at the 1997 general election. Admittedly, he came back to Westminster later as Conservative Member for Kensington and Chelsea, but, I have to admit he did not look comfortable any more in Parliament.

Any chance of winning the Conservative Party leadership - for which, at one time, he had been widely tipped - had passed him by, and no doubt the prospect of a long period in opposition he did not find appealing. Now he has become a television performer of the highest quality, not just with his political jousting alongside Labour’s Diane Abbott, but with his fascinating and compelling programmes about railway journeys.

One of his latest, travelling across Russia by rail with his Bradshaw, was one of the most intriguing programmes I have ever watched. Portillo has found his metier! He has a job which many an envious schoolboy (and octogenarian, too, I might add) would give their right arms for.