Prime Minister David Cameron’s hopes of securing a reform deal today on Britain’s relationship with the European Union were called into question late last night, as Downing Street warned that EU leaders had made “no real progress” towards coming to an agreement.
A Number 10 source said the first session of the highly-anticipated European Council meeting had ended with a “significant gap on a number of issues”, including Cameron’s plans to obtain new safeguards for the City of London and a limit on welfare benefits for EU migrants.
“The going is tough,” the Downing Street source said, adding there were “some real outstanding issues” and it remained “unclear” how multiple disagreements would be resolved.
EU leaders are also understood to be at odds over Cameron’s proposals to exempt Britain from the EU’s “ever closer union” commitment, as well as his desire for all 28 EU member states to sign up to a future treaty change.
Cameron told reporters earlier yesterday that he would be “battling for Britain” at the negotiating table.
“We’ve got some important work to do today and tomorrow and it’s going to be hard,” Cameron said, adding, “If we can get a good deal, I’ll take that deal. But I will not take a deal that doesn’t meet what we need.”
Cameron had hoped to hammer out a final agreement today, paving the way for an in/out vote on Britain’s EU membership as soon as 23 June. Yet last night’s gridlock raised questions about whether a deal – and a referendum – are likely to happen anytime soon.
Cameron has promised to hold the referendum by the end of 2017.
Bloomberg reported last night that Cameron had made a surprise bid to extend a so-called emergency brake on welfare payments to non-British citizens for a total of 13 years, nearly double the seven-year brake first proposed.
The PM told EU leaders that they had a make-or-break opportunity to “settle” the issue of Britain’s EU membership “for a generation”.
“The question of Britain’s place in Europe has been allowed to fester for too long and it is time to deal with it,” Cameron said.
Cameron is expected to hold multiple one-on-one meetings today in a last-ditch attempt to persuade other EU leaders to get behind his demands before the European Council meeting officially resumes later this morning.
The two-day meeting had been scheduled to wrap up around lunchtime, but EU officials warned last night that negotiations could last well into the weekend if an agreement cannot be reached.