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30/05/2016

Cameron clinches reform deal after benefits compromise

UK & Europe

Cameron clinches reform deal after benefits compromise

David Cameron gives presser after EU reform deal.

(Henriette Jacobsen)

UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday night (19 February) said he would campaign for Britain to stay in a reformed EU, after securing promises of treaty change and compromising on his demands over benefits for EU migrants and their children.

Cameron yesterday asked for the emergency brake mechanism to stop EU migrants claiming in-work benefits to last for a total of 13 years. Instead he settled for seven years, after two days of hard-fought negotiations.

The Visegrad group of central European countries had said the brake should only last for five years.

The Prime Minister also told EU leaders on Thursday he wanted a total ban on migrants claiming benefits for children living outside of the UK.

Under new EU legislation, child benefit payments will be indexed to the cost of living for children outside the UK. The new laws will be open to all member states.

It will only apply to new arrivals to the UK, once the rules are passed, and to all workers from 1 January 2020.

Cameron – who promised to campaign with “all his heart and soul” for Britain to stay in the EU –  outlined the other parts of the legally binding deal, which included promises to incorporate safeguards for the city of London and British sovereignty in a future treaty change.

Central to those demands are rules allowing a non-euro country to escalate difficult eurozone-focused regulation to discussion in the European Council.

He also won a specific carve-out for the UK from the path to “ever closer union” – deeper political integration in the bloc.

“We will never join the euro, we will never be part of eurozone bailouts, never part of the passport-free area, a European army or a European superstate,” Cameron said at a Brussels press conference.

Referendum date

The prime minister will now meet with cabinet members in London tomorrow – the first time a cabinet meeting has been held on a Saturday since the Falklands War – with an announcement on the referendum date expected shortly afterwards.

As Cameron, elected on the promise of the in/out referendum, faced reporters, the news broke that his long-standing ally Michael Gove MP would campaign for Brexit.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the two day talks were far from glamourous. “What matters is that leaders did not walk away,” he said.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker added, “Britain has had always special and specific status in the EU. The agreement today underlines this.”

Winners and losers

Cameron managed to reverse the watered-down settlement deal presented on Thursday morning, telling leaders, “I need this or it will be suicide”.

The Danes can also be happy with the agreement. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announced when he arrived for the summit that his most important priority would be to secure child benefit indexation for all member states.

Postponing that until 2020 succeeded in getting the Visegrad countries on board.

“Finally, there’s s Brexit deal. Good deal for both the EU and the UK. And tough fight from the Danish side for child benefits indexation for all countries. A victory that I have been fighting for, for years,” Rasmussen tweeted.

Meanwhile, Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel ended up giving a green light to letting the ’ever closer union’ ambition not apply to the UK. That was a major sticking point on Thursday.

Background

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.

Timeline

  • 20 February: Cameron to announce date for the UK's EU referendum.

Further Reading

Cameron demands 13-year ban on EU migrant benefits at summit

British Prime Minister David Cameron told EU leaders on Thursday evening (18 February) that the ‘emergency brake’ to stop EU migrants claiming in-work benefits - a major condition for his support for the UK staying in the bloc - should last for up to 13 years.

EurActiv.com