Saturday 18 November 2017

Brussels set to offer Cameron new terms to remain within EU

David Cameron meets with European Council president Donald Tusk. Photo: PA
David Cameron meets with European Council president Donald Tusk. Photo: PA

Matthew Holehouse in Brussels

BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron will be presented with a deal today that will determine whether Britain stays in Europe.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said last night that he would publish an offer to Mr Cameron setting out a series of reforms designed to reduce the number of migrants travelling to the UK.

Mr Tusk was forced to delay the publication of the deal after Mr Cameron on Sunday night told him that the deal on the table was "not good enough".

The deal, to be published at midday today, will offer Britain an immediate "emergency brake", allowing the UK to deny in-work benefits to EU migrants.

It will also provide assurances that Brussels is no longer committed to "ever closer union". And, crucially, it will give Britain some sort of opt-out on issues seen to damage countries that are not part of the Eurozone.

In a message on Twitter, Mr Tusk said: "Mr Cameron is expected to welcome the deal, which will pave the way for the in-out referendum to be held in June."

It comes as one of Mr Cameron's toughest critics in Europe softened his stance yesterday, as negotiators sought to agree a draft deal before a deadline expires within a few hours.

Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister, hailed Mr Cameron as "brave" and said the British EU referendum negotiations were an "opportunity" to improve the entire EU. He added that a deal could be done over free movement.

Last summer, he emerged as a stiff opponent of the reforms, accusing Mr Cameron of attempting to "dismantle" the EU and dismissing his benefit curbs as a "non-starter".

The comments reflect how far many leaders, faced with the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, have been willing to dial down their public hostility.

'Sherpas' from all 28 states are expected to meet on Friday. If not, it puts the prospect of a summer referendum in serious doubt. The talks were extended for 24 hours following a meeting over dinner between Mr Tusk and Mr Cameron in Downing Street on Sunday night.

In a rare piece of public commentary on the talks - which have hitherto been held in relative secrecy in Brussels - No 10 claimed a "significant breakthrough" after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's office said that the UK's current levels of EU migration would justify the imposition of an "emergency brake" on benefits.

"On welfare, the Commission have tabled a text making clear that the UK's current circumstances meet the criteria for triggering the emergency brake. 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," Downing Street said.

The brake is a device drawn up by Mr Juncker's office as an alternative to Mr Cameron's absolute four-year ban on benefit claims by EU migrants. But the British government insists it would have to come into force immediately after the referendum, and that Mr Cameron will "not do a deal at any price".

The European Commission yesterday confirmed an offer had been tabled, but hinted that Downing Street was premature to declare victory.

"We do not negotiate via the media," said Mr Juncker's spokesman. "It is not enough for the Commission and Council lawyers to agree. This is a process that is run at 28, and the Commission works for all 28 member states of the union."

The spokesman refused to say whether Downing Street's statement meant that Mr Juncker agrees that EU migration to the UK is too high.

Mr Michel told Mr Cameron as the renegotiation began that he would resist any attempt to unpick free movement or reverse the achievements of European integration. "If you want to go, just go. We will not let you ruin Europe by staying," he was quoted as saying.

But yesterday, he told 'Le Monde' that all of Europe could benefit from the British reforms. "I think that it is brave on the part of a prime minister to organise this referendum and that it's in everyone's interests, including that of Britain, that this country remains inside the union," he said. "The issues raised by Mr Cameron are difficult to resolve but must be treated as opportunities for the EU... these are important questions and can improve the way Europe works." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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