Prime Minister David Cameron and European Council President Donald Tusk failed to reach a deal on Sunday (31 January), on Britain’s EU renegotiation after talks in London, but agreed to another 24 hours of “crucial” talks.
The meeting was seen as vital to finding agreement on Cameron’s demands for measures to curb migration into Britain — the most difficult of four areas he wants to renegotiate before holding a referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017.
Both sides need to agree the main points of a deal before other EU leaders iron out the details at a summit on Feb. 18-19.
If an agreement is reached, the British premier could hold the referendum as early as June in a vote that will determine Britain’s future role in world affairs, and also shape the EU.
“No deal yet. Intensive work in next 24 (hours) crucial,” Tusk said on Twitter.
David Cameron is pushing to exclude European Union migrants from benefits such as income top-ups for low-paid workers until they have paid into the British system under a so-called “emergency brake” system.
A spokeswoman for prime minister said that “much progress” had been made since a Friday meeting with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
The European Commission has indicated that Britain’s “circumstances meet the criteria for triggering the emergency brake” — which would require countries to argue that their welfare system was under strain.
“This is a significant breakthrough, meaning the prime minister can deliver on his commitment to restrict in-work benefits to EU migrants for four years,” the spokeswoman said.
“But there are still areas where there is more to do and both agreed it was therefore worth taking the extra time to make further progress.”
The Conservative leader has vowed to secure reform in four key areas to address the concerns of British people with doubts about EU membership, before campaigning to remain within the 28-member bloc in a referendum due by 2017.
The EU source said that Tusk would “assess the situation” after 24 hours before deciding whether or not to take the deal to other EU countries for consideration. A draft text will be circulated to all member states on Tuesday. Before then, officials would meet in Brussels to “work through the day to resolve the outstanding issues”.
France warns against “backdoor veto” right for the UK
Underlining the challenges ahead, France warned Britain that it would block a separate proposal to allow one country about to be overruled in a vote the ability to pause the process.
“To French officials, any provisions giving non-euro countries power to indefinitely stall eurozone votes are unacceptable,” the Financial Times reported, saying that France would refuse any “backdoor veto” for the City of London finance hub.
The talks in London were to cover all four areas in which Cameron wants reform: migrant benefits, safeguards against more political integration in the EU, protection of countries such as Britain which do not use the euro currency and boosting economic competitiveness.
According to government sources David Cameron is prepared to accept the “emergency brake” in place of a previously proposed four-year curb on EU migrants claiming benefits, which other countries had objected to as discriminatory and which could require a treaty change.
“The prime minister intends to leave Tusk in no doubt that he will not do a deal at any price,” a senior government source said.
Cameron not impatient for deal
Cameron wants the “emergency break” to come into force immediately after a referendum in favour of membership, in a bid to reduce what the British government considers a “pull factor” encouraging Europeans to come to the UK in search of work.
British officials hope that a final deal can be nailed down at a Brussels summit on February 18 and 19, which the Tory chief would then use to campaign for Britain to stay in the bloc.
An agreement at that time would open the door to a referendum in June, but Cameron insists he is willing to hold out for as long as it takes to secure the right package of reforms, if necessary delaying the referendum until September or even next year.
Support for ‘Brexit’ on the rise
The number of European job seekers has become a hot political issue in Britain and key driver of anti-EU sentiment.
David Cameron is under increasing pressure from his own centre-right Conservative party, which has a strong eurosceptic contingent, to come back with a robust deal.
Opinion polls currently suggest that Britons would vote to leave the EU in a so-called “Brexit” by a small margin.
Reflecting domestic pressure on the prime minister, the co-chair of the anti-EU Conservatives for Britain group dismissed the talks as “synthetic” and a “farce”.
“It is not going to answer the concerns of the British people. We need the power in our own parliament to determine what our migration policy is,” he told Sky News.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.
If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.
Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.
But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.
>>Read our LinksDossier: The UK's EU referendum: On the path to Brexit?
- 18-19 February 2016: EU leaders to discuss Cameron's reform demands at summit in Brussels.
- June 2016: Rumoured favoured date of Cameron for holding the referendum.
- End of 2017: Deadline for referendum.
- July-December 2017: United Kingdom holds rotating EU Council Presidency.