- David Cameron has been forced to retreat on reforms to migrant benefits
- He wanted to stop asylum seekers accessing benefits for first 4 years
- But more than a dozen EU leaders protested against the PM’s plans
- Countries in Eastern Europe dubbed benefit proposals as ‘discriminatory’
Countries in Eastern Europe led the charge in dismissing the Prime Minister’s ‘discriminatory’ proposals to stop EU workers accessing in-work benefits for the first four years after arriving in the UK.
During a dinner in Brussels to discuss Britain’s referendum renegotiation demands, Mr Cameron warned his fellow leaders that the UK had faced ‘unprecedented’ waves of migration, putting major ‘pressures’ on public services.
He added: ‘This is a major concern of the British people that is undermining support for the European Union. We need to find an effective answer to this problem.’
But despite his tough talk – and a promise to ‘battle through the night’ to get the best deal for Britain – it was made clear that the benefits plan was dead.
Officials also said that the Prime Minister had not been seeking to reach a deal on the future terms of Britain’s EU membership at the dinner, but was instead hoping to build ‘political momentum’.
At best, they hope he will be in a position to secure a deal at the next EU council meeting in February. If he fails to do so, Downing Street’s hopes of a snap in/out referendum in June would be over.
EU EXIT CAMP HAS 9-POINT LEAD
More voters want to leave the EU than stay in, a major poll suggests.
The survey of 20,000 people by Lord Ashcroft shows that around 47 per cent are inclined to vote for ‘Brexit’ while 38 per cent are inclined to remain.
It found 35 per cent would consider voting to remain in the EU if David Cameron wins concessions in his renegotiation, including significant numbers of those who are currently leaning toward voting to leave.
Just 19 per cent of voters believe the PM will return from Brussels with a significant deal.
Lord Ashcroft, a former Tory party deputy chairman, said: ‘More than half of those who voted Tory in May put themselves on the “leave” side of our spectrum, and they currently see staying in the EU as a bigger risk than remaining.
‘But even though they are pessimistic about Cameron’s chances of achieving much in the renegotiation, they are by far the most likely to respond if he is able to claim victory convincingly.’
The poll is the latest in a series to suggest a significant lead for the No camp ahead of the referendum on Britain’s membership expected in June next year.
The polling industry is still reeling from an election in which none of the main players got the result right. ComRes warned of significant discrepancies between online and phone poll results ahead of the referendum
Over the working dinner, the Prime Minister spelled out his four key demands – curbing migration, increasing competitiveness, freeing Britain from the EU’s commitment to ‘ever closer union’ and measures to stop the eurozone countries ganging up on non-members.
He said: ‘Countries need flexibility so they can make changes to their welfare systems to better manage migration. We have got to address this worry of the British people that they will be taken against their will into a political project. This is a fear that has undermined British public trust in the EU for a number of years.’
But before the dinner even began, Mr Cameron was hit by a wall of hostility. On the way into the summit, other leaders lined up in front of the TV cameras to make it clear there would be no deal on benefits.
The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia had released a joint statement criticising Mr Cameron’s proposals after meeting him ahead of the summit.
They said ‘we believe we can … reach a comprehensive agreement by February’, but added: ‘[We] consider the freedom of movement one of the fundamental values of the European Union. Proposals regarding this area remain the most sensitive issue for us. In this respect, we will not support any solutions which would be discriminatory or limit free movement.’
French president Francois Hollande said: ‘If it is legitimate to listen to the British Prime Minister, it is unacceptable to revise founding European commitments.’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would be supportive of Mr Cameron, but only if his renegotiation demands stayed in line with current EU treaties.
She said: ‘On our side we would like to keep Britain as a member of the EU, but at the same time we do not want to limit the basic freedoms, non-discrimination, the fundamental principles of the EU.
‘I believe there should be possibilities to find solutions if all sides are willing to compromise.’
Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister, said Mr Cameron would be forced to drop key demands after ‘strong and frank’ talks, adding: ‘Cameron’s starting point will certainly not be the destination.’
UK GIVES £275MILLION TO HELP REFUGEES WHO ARE CAMPED IN TURKEY
Britain last night said a deal to hand £275million to Turkey was still on the table despite little evidence it has stemmed the flow of migrants heading to Europe.
David Cameron last month said he would find the cash as part of an EU deal that will see the country get £2.1billion to be spent on the two million refugees camped there.
But a report presented to leaders in Brussels yesterday showed there had only been a ‘slight reduction’ in the number of arrivals crossing the Aegean to the Greek islands.
About 4,000 people have come every day since the deal was signed on November 29, compared with 5,000 to 6,000 a day earlier in the month.
‘This decrease may, however, also be attributed to other factors,’ said the report written by the Luxembourg government, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Council. The factors include bad weather.
A senior British government source said last night: ‘We think it’s right to be supportive of them [because of the number of refugees they are hosting]’.
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi said about parts of Mr Cameron’s proposals: ‘We’re not in the same position.’
European Parliament president Martin Schulz said: ‘Cameron’s four-year benefit ban won’t get through. It is not for the EU to accommodate Cameron but the other way around. It is not the EU that has called a referendum.’
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, who chairs meetings of leaders, said: ‘The consultations I have led with all member states shows goodwill of all the parties involved, but it doesn’t change the fact that some parts of the British proposal seem unacceptable.
‘However, if Prime Minister Cameron persuades leaders that we can work together to find solutions regarding all four baskets then we will have a real chance to strike a deal in February.’
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said that Brussels bureaucrats were preparing to put a different deal on the table.
Over the dinner, the other countries were expected to make Mr Cameron an alternative offer on immigration – such as a so-called ‘emergency brake’.
This would allow temporary restrictions to be put in place if Britain’s public services become overwhelmed.
On his way into the summit, Mr Cameron said: ‘We’re not pushing for a deal tonight but we’re pushing for real momentum so that we can get this deal done. So I am going to be battling hard for Britain right through the night and I think we’ll be getting a good deal.’