EU offering UK ’emergency brake’ on migrant benefits: sources

David Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron at a press conference after a meeting with the German Chancellor. Berlin, May 2015. [Shutterstock]

The European Union is offering Britain a new “emergency brake” rule that could help curb immigration from other EU states in a reform package before a British referendum on EU membership, sources close to the negotiations told Reuters on Thursday (28 January).

The proposal would give any member state that could convince EU governments that its welfare system was under excessive strain a right to deny benefits to new workers arriving from other EU countries for up to four years. That has been a key demand of Prime Minister David Cameron, and one which many EU leaders have said risks conflict with citizens’ treaty rights.

Cameron will discuss the proposal in Brussels on Friday (28 January) with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, whose institution would have to initiate any such legislation, sources said. Cameron is keen to have measures adopted that can convince Britons to vote to stay in the EU, possibly as early as June.

If he and Juncker agree, then a broader, outline package of EU reforms could be approved by Cameron in a meeting on Sunday (31 January) with European Council President Donald Tusk. Much of the rest of the package has already been broadly agreed upon, the sources said.

Tusk, who chairs EU summits, is expected to circulate written proposals on reform to the other 27 EU governments early next week with the aim of resolving remaining disagreements when EU leaders next meet in Brussels on 18-19 February.

The European Commission told EURACTIV it will not comment on the ongoing membership renegotiation talks between the EU and the UK.

>> Read: Cameron clears schedule to talk Brexit with Juncker on Friday


British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relationship 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 he's seeking, the Brish premier will campaign to stay in the European Union. 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 European 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.


  • 29 January: David Cameron meets Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.
  • 18 February: European Council meeting.
  • 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.

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