- David Cameron has been forced to retreat on reforms to migrant benefits
- He wanted to stop EU migrants accessing benefits for first 4 years
- But more than a dozen EU leaders protested against the PM’s plans
- PM says he’s taken a ‘big step’ forward to a ‘better deal’ for the UK
- Nigel Farage dismisses talks and predicts only ‘minor concessions’
Following last night’s summit talks in Brussels Mr Cameron has insisted he wants an agreement on renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU by the next summit on February 18.
But Ukip leader Nigel Farage dismissed Mr Cameron’s claims of progress in a hastily arranged press conference after diner with EU leaders.
Mr Cameron’s proposal to ban new migrants to Britain from claiming benefits for four years is effectively dead after European Council president Donald Tusk said there could be no discrimination within Europe’s free movement rules.
Mr Tusk said the EU leaders had demonstrated a ‘willingness’ to make progress on Britain’s concerns but was joined by German chancellor Angela Merkel who promised to protect Europe’s key ‘pillars’.
In the aftermath of the talks, in which Mr Cameron made a 45 minute pitch to his fellow leaders, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has insisted Mr Cameron is still seeking legally binding, ‘irreversible’ changes to EU rules which would stop Britain’s benefits acting as a ‘magnet’ to migrants.
But Mr Farage tweeted: ‘David Cameron came, saw, and got hammered. How many times can his little plans be rejected?
‘Mr. Cameron was told to come back in February when I suspect he will probably get a few minor concessions.
‘Clearer now than ever that only way to control our borders, stop giving £55m every day to Brussels & make our own laws is to Leave the EU.’
Speaking at an unscheduled press conference after the talks broke up, Mr Cameron said: ‘I would say today what has happened is we have taken a big step to a better deal for Britain but there is still a lot of hard work to be done, and it is going to need to be done between now and February 18.
‘But there is a path through this to a better deal for Britain.’
Mr Fallon played down the prospects of creating an ’emergency brake’ on migration as a stop-gap way of resolving Mr Cameron’s demands.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘We have got to find a way through this.
‘It has not got to be a short-term solution … it can’t be something that is simply cobbled together for a few months or a year or two.’
He added: ‘But Britain is deadly serious about reducing the pull, the attractiveness of our benefits system, so that we can start to reduce, rather than see migration increase.’
Mr Cameron warned his fellow leaders that the UK had faced ‘unprecedented’ waves of migration, putting major ‘pressures’ on public services.
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.
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.
VENISON AND POLISH CHEESECAKE: A TRULY EUROPEAN BANQUET
EU leaders tucked into venison and Polish cheesecake as they argued over the British renegotiation last night.
As David Cameron began presenting the case for his demands, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and the other leaders enjoyed free-range chicken terrine and wild mushrooms as a starter.
For main course they had fillet of venison, parsnip mousse and Sczechuan pepper jus – the sauce a possible nod to the Prime Minister’s call for the EU to do more to trade with fast-growing countries in the Far East.
Oranges marinated with spices were served for dessert, together with a calmondin foam – made from the bitter citric fruit of the same name.
Then with their coffee they had sernik, a Polish cheesecake, perhaps a choice to please European Council president Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who chaired the meeting.
The meal, which was eaten in the dining room of the Justus Lispius building – the European Council headquarters in Brussels – was washed down with leaders’ choices from a secret EU wine list.
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
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.’
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.’
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.’
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said that Brussels bureaucrats were preparing to put a different deal on the table.
In an unscheduled press conference that took place after midnight, Mr Cameron was upbeat about the European Council meeting.
He said: ‘I think very good progress has been made but it’s going to be very difficult. We are trying something that hasn’t been tried before. We have taken a big step forward for a better deal for Britain.’
He added that there was a ‘pathway to a deal in February but the truth is it will be very hard work’.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said: ‘On the UK we had a substantive and constructive discussion over dinner.
‘I did not want to sound too dramatic, but I believe tonight was a make-or-break moment.’
In a boost for Mr Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted at broad support for treaty change to cement Britain’s demands. She said that eurozone members responded ‘very positively’ to Mr Cameron’s desire not to interfere in the eurozone.
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]’.
Britain’s deal to hand £275million to Turkey still on the table – despite little evidence it has stemmed the flow of migrants heading to Europe
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 since it signed an agreement to do so.
David Cameron last month said he would stump up the vast sum of money 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 Sea to the Greek islands.
About 4,000 people have come every day since the deal was signed on 29 November, compared to 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 currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council.
A separate report on the functioning of the EU-Turkey action plan agreed with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has concluded that migrant arrivals from Turkey were ‘practically unchanged’ in the two weeks after the signing.
A senior British government source last night said discussions over the aid money were still ongoing but added: ‘We think it’s right to be support of them [because of the number of refugees they are hosting]’.
European Parliament president Martin Schulz told EU leaders that it ‘should not be a problem’ for Europe to welcome millions of migrants.
The German socialist said: ‘If you look at the numbers of refugees in other countries in the wider region, for example Jordan, then the 28 EU states should be able to manage this problem of migratory movements towards Europe.
‘With 507 million people, that’s the population of the EU, you have one or two million refugees that can be distributed across the whole EU, that should not be a problem.
‘But if very few member states are prepared to actually do their part in managing this problem then that is a problem.’
Mr Davutoglu yesterday met German Chancellor Angela Merkel and some other leaders before the main summit to discuss a possible scheme to bring Syrian refugees directly from Turkey to Europe. Mr Cameron was not part of the talks.