With a prospect of late-night talks after the first day of the EU summit opening today (18 February), Council President Donald Tusk has scheduled an “English breakfast” tomorrow in hope of a final compromise to help UK Prime Minister David Cameron to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the Brexit referendum.
According to diplomats, Parliament President Martin Schulz will also attend the “English breakfast, brunch or a late lunch”, as the scene-setting was described by diplomats. Tusk wants to include the European Parliament as much as this is possible into the process.
A “war room of lawyers” will be next to the leaders, a diplomat said.
In a letter published yesterday, Tusk warned there was no guarantee of a deal and urged leaders in a letter to use negotiating momentum to strike an accord that could preserve the Union as it faces an array of crises including confrontation with Russia in Ukraine and Syria and a huge influx of refugees that has stoked nationalist sentiment.
“I have to state frankly: there is still no guarantee that we will reach an agreement. We differ on some political issues and I am fully aware that it will be difficult to overcome them,” Tusk wrote.
Referring to a possible setback, and to those who may be pushing the EU toward its collapse, Tusk writes that it would be “a defeat both for the UK and the European Union, but a geopolitical victory for those who seek to divide us”.
Diplomats offered varying assessments of the chance of a deal. One spoke of a possible further emergency summit: “There is blackmail and threats from all sides,” he said.
But most saw little appetite for dragging on a debate many see as a distraction from bigger problems, not least the migrant crisis that is the only other major agenda item. And many also
see Cameron as a man in a hurry with polls turning against him.
“Cameron needs a resolution,” one senior diplomat said. “So it’s likely we’ll get to something.” Another said all seemed ready to sit at the table till a deal was done. “People think if
we don’t get it solved now, we’re never going to solve it.”
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French lawmakers a deal was not just possible, but vital. “A British exit would be a shock whose consequences for Europe are hard to imagine,” Valls said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said many of Cameron’s demands for EU reform were justified and reasonable.
Key issues unresolved include: concerns in Eastern Europe that a deal to help Cameron cut immigration by barring low-paid EU migrant workers from British benefits will hurt their
citizens; French insistence that the City of London match eurozone regulation; efforts to ensure British exemptions from closer EU integration do not become more widespread; and reluctance in some capitals to commit to future amendments of EU treaties.
Cameron must win over own party
Cameron has stuck to a public line that he is in no hurry to make an agreement, preferring substance over speed, but faces difficulties in persuading some, including his own Conservative party members, that he has achieved any depth of reform.
He and EU officials stress the decision to be taken by the leaders will be legally binding and irreversible. However, diplomats say some governments are concerned that they cannot
bind their successors to guaranteeing future treaty change.
Heaping pressure on the prime minister, several right-leaning British newspapers reported on their front pages Thursday that the number of EU workers to Britain had grown to two million.
The premier held one-on-one talks Wednesday with London mayor Boris Johnson, a colourful Conservative who eurosceptics hope will spearhead efforts to pull Britain out of the European Union.
A source close to Johnson, seen as a potential successor to Cameron, said the mayor was “genuinely conflicted” about whether to back staying in the EU, or leaving.
“I’ll be back. No deal,” Johnson said after talks at Cameron’s 10 Downing Street residence.
Cameron has promised Britons an in-out EU membership referendum by 2017, but it is widely expected that if he can get a deal in Brussels, he will call the vote for June.
The wisdom of calling a referendum in the midst of the worse crisis the EU has ever known, with the arrival of thousands of migrants every day from Turkey to Greece, is however questionable.
Senior experts said that the worsening refugee crisis could push the British to vote to leave the Union, and bring about other disastrous consequences.
Tim Bennett, Director-General/CEO of the Trans-Atlantic Business Council (TABC), said, "Members of the Trans-Atlantic Business Council (TABC) strongly support the UK's continued membership in the European Union. From a business perspective, we believe this will continue to be beneficial for the UK, for the EU, for the US and for transatlantic trade and investment relations. EU membership creates considerable opportunities for the UK to support efforts to create jobs, growth, and global competitiveness. The UK is an important and effective voice in the EU enterprise, innovation and regulatory reform debates, including in the areas of services, trade, energy, life sciences, and digital policies. Finally, the UK is a supporter of an ambitious EU-U.S. trade and investment partnership agreement and of a deepening EU Single Market. TABC members share these ambitions and believe that the EU and UK will accomplish more by the UK remaining a member of the EU."
- 18 February, 17.00 Brussels time: EU summit begins, with Brexit and migration crisis on the menu.
- June 2016: Rumoured favourite date for referendum.
- End of 2017: Final deadline for holding the UK referendum.