EU Referendum

Face that says it all: Tired PM leaves EU talks at 5.30am as his deal is watered down – and Euro MPs threaten to kill it off

  • David Cameron left Brussels talks near dawn and is due back around 9am 
  • Eastern European leaders warned Britain to ‘take it or leave it’ in Brussels 
  • Prime Minister was pleading at a summit in the city for a ‘credible’ package
  • Counterparts put up opposition to his plans to limit access to UK welfare
  • In further slapdown they warned any package cobbled together will be final
Long night: A tired David Cameron leaves EU talks in Brussels at 5.30am this morning with no sign of a deal
Long night: A tired David Cameron leaves EU talks in Brussels at 5.30am this morning with no sign of a deal

Warning Britain to ‘take it or leave it’, Eastern European leaders insisted curbs on benefits to foreign workers must be phased in gradually.

The EU’s 28 leaders led by French President Francois Hollande also worked together to insert a ‘last chance’ clause ensuring this is Britain’s only shot at brokering a deal.

The tired Prime Minister had bloodshot eyes as he left the talks just before dawn and is expected to return at around 9am.

Cameron and EU leaders in Brussels said last night there were ‘some signs of progress’ but Downing Street said there was ‘still a lot to do’.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd today warned ‘the deal is out of reach at the moment’.

The Prime Minister held several ‘hard going’ meetings with European Council president Donald Tusk and French president Francois Hollande before leaving.

He will return to the negotiations later this morning, Number 10 said, starting with another meeting with Mr Tusk.

A Downing Street source said: ‘It’s hard going. Some signs of progress but nothing yet agreed and still a lot to do’.

The Prime Minister had been pleading at a summit in the city for a ‘credible’ package to help him lock Britain into the EU for a ‘generation’. But his counterparts put up a wall of opposition to his plans to limit access to the welfare state.

And, in a further slapdown, they warned any package that is cobbled together will be final – the UK must take it or quit the European Union for good.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage insisted the gruelling talks illustrated the problem with the EU – insisting despite only making ‘tiddly’ requests the talks were still hard going.

He told the BBC today: ‘I simply can’t believe that at some point today David Cameron will not get some sort of concessions out of these people.

‘They must know that if he’s sent home totally humiliated, Brexit gets that little be closer.’

No word: Mr Cameron said nothing to waiting journalists as he left at just before dawn but behind the scenes EU leaders were seeking to water down the deal

 Tough talks: The Prime Minister held several 'hard going' meetings with European Council president Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured) before leaving this morning

 The French and the Belgians insisted there could be no second referendum if the UK votes to leave while on a day of drama in Brussels and Westminster:

 Worried: David Cameron has been ambushed in Brussels with demands to further water down his EU referendum deal

Ever closer union: The PM wants an exemption for Britain from this guiding aim. Foreign leaders are reluctant to write this into future EU treaties.

Emergency brake: Eastern European nations are demanding safeguards that no other EU country would be allowed to limit payments to its citizens. The Germans and Austrians would like to take advantage of any new regime themselves

Child benefit: No 10 wants the curbs on payments to children overseas to be introduced immediately. The rest of the EU is insisting they must be phased in

Treaty change: The PM has promised his deal will be ‘legally binding’ and written into a future treaty. France and Belgium are resisting. Eurosceptics say anything less than full treaty change would be reversible or could be overturned by the European Court of Justice

City of London: The PM wants protection for the City from Eurozone countries. France is resisting on the grounds that this could amount to special treatment for the UK’s dominant financial sector

  • The president of the European Parliament threatened to wreck the agreement if it is ‘discriminatory’;
  • A senior Tory official was found to be urging business leaders to sign a letter in support of the deal before it had even been agreed;
  • A Conservative grassroots leader announced he was quitting the party in protest at Mr Cameron’s handling of the renegotiation;
  • Tory MPs reacted furiously to the BBC giving Neil Kinnock a ten-minute platform to make scaremongering claims about the dangers of leaving the EU;
  • It was claimed that a separate letter in support of remaining in the EU would secure the backing of more than 80 FTSE 100 firms;

After the first round of talks, Number 10 aides admitted there were ‘real outstanding issues to resolve’ on curbing migrant benefits, protecting the City of London and securing treaty change.

They said Mr Cameron was prepared to walk away from the summit and try again in a few weeks.

This is despite a detailed timetable being in place for him to fly back to London at lunchtime, hold a Cabinet meeting and announce in Downing Street that the referendum will take place on June 23.

Failing to secure a deal today would leave Mr Cameron facing a scramble to hold his poll before the summer – when the EU migrant crisis is expected to reach its peak.

His draft deal has already been denounced as ‘feeble’ by Tory MPs who say it does not repatriate a single power to Britain or curb mass immigration.

But, at last night’s talks, he came under intense pressure to water it down still further by agreeing not to introduce restrictions on the payment of child benefit to EU workers immediately.

Downing Street insisted Mr Cameron was resisting the demands for a further cave-in. Sources indicated he was looking to toughen his own requirements – asking for a brake that restricts migrants claiming tax credits to last for up to 13 years.

But Eurosceptic MPs said it still seemed that the ‘thin gruel’ on offer to voters appeared to be getting even thinner. They added that, despite the drama in Brussels, the negotiation remained a huge missed opportunity to fundamentally change Britain’s relationship with the EU.

MPs also reacted with fury to news that a senior official – Baroness Rock, the Tory vice chairman for business – had begun rounding up business leaders to publicly back the deal.

The French and the Belgians ramped up the pressure on Mr Cameron by making clear that British voters will be given no second chance to secure a better package.

 ‘I will only take a deal that is right’: PM arrives in Brussels

 Deal makers and breakers: EU leaders gathered for the traditional family photo. David Cameron (front row, third from right) has allies in Germany's Angela Merkel and Denmark's Lars Lokke Rasmussen. But he still has to square concerns from France's Francois Hollande, and eastern European leaders including Poland's Beata Szydlo and Hungary's Viktor Orban. Austria’s Werner Faymann arrived at the talks with a strong agenda to tackle the flow of migrants into his country

David Cameron and Angela Merkel walked into the talks together, pictured right today, as the first formal meetings got underway Mr Cameron made an anxious expression in conversation with Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, pictured today as the talks began

 Mr Cameron's talks, assisted by EU Council president Donald Tusk pictured left as the talks began, could run into the early hours of the morning as a deal is hammered out


Francois Hollande, France

France has raised significant concerns about how the British deal on the eurozone and protections for the City of London will work.Concessions to Mr Hollande included confirmation there would be a ‘single rule book’ on how the single market will work.Mr Cameron rushed to Paris on Monday night to work on the deal but confirmation of a resolution only began to appear today when EU sources indicated the European Central Bank had agreed to the changes.

Viktor Orban, Hungary The Hungarian prime minister sparked alarm when he suggested the British agenda was treating his citizens like ‘parasites’.Hungary had strong objections to banning EU migrant workers from claiming benefits alongside their jobs in Britain. Today his concerns appeared to have been dealt with as he told waiting media: ‘I think we will have a good negotiation and I think we have a good chance to make an agreement.’I am rather optimistic.’



Werner Faymann, AustriaThe Austrian chancellor threw what could have been a huge spanner into the works by suggesting his country would impose a strict cap on asylum claims.Austria has been left reeling by the migration crisis and has sought to use Mr Cameron’s renegotiation as a way of easing its own concerns. He has complained the European solution for dealing with the migrant crisis – set to see more than a million people try and get into the EU this year – is ‘too slow’


Angela Merkel, Germany

One of the longest serving and most senior EU leaders, Angela Merkel has become a key ally for David Cameron in completing his deal.Germany did raise concerns about the plans damaging the principle of free movement across the EU by introducing discrimination.But as Mr Cameron’s deal evolved toward the ‘brake’ on migrant benefits rather than outright ban, Mrs Merkel has become a cheerleader for concluding the deal – insisting the British demands were ‘justified’. Lars

Lokke Rasmussen, Denmark

Denmark has been a crucial ally for Mr Cameron during his talks, insisting the proposals on offer were ‘understandable and acceptable’. After the first draft was published, Mr Rasmussen vowed to help the British Prime Minister conclude his deal. He said: ‘Denmark will work hard to ensure results which can help the British government win


the referendum and remain a key member of the European Union.

Beata Szydlo, Poland

Squaring Poland and the rest of east Europe has been a key challenge for Mr Cameron.The Polish prime minister hit out at the proposed reforms for migrants last year.Even last week Poland was still warning the current draft of Britain’s deal was no more than ‘mostly acceptable’. Polish workers in Britain are by far the biggest bloc already here working and, in some cases, claiming child benefit and other handouts.

MP Damian Green: EU deal will ‘strengthen Britain’s positions’.

 They demanded that a clause should be written into the draft agreement on Britain’s EU membership that explicitly rules out holding a second referendum if the UK votes to leave.

Eurosceptics had argued that, if the UK votes out in the expected June referendum, Brussels might be prepared to return to the table to offer meaningful concessions on issues such as free movement.

During tense talks, expected to run over into today, Mr Cameron last night told his counterparts that his aim now was to secure a package that would be ‘credible’ with the British people.

The PM said: ‘The question of Britain’s place in Europe has been allowed to fester for too long and it is time to deal with it.

‘If we can reach agreement here that is strong enough to persuade the British people to support UK membership of the EU we have the opportunity to settle this issue for a generation.

‘It is an opportunity to move to a fundamentally different approach to our relationship with the EU – what some might call live and let live – reflecting that those states that wish to integrate further can do so while those of us that don’t can be reassured that their interests will be protected.’

Talks began at 5.30pm last night in the hope of reaching a deal on Britain’s EU negotiations early today. Armies of officials were expected to work all night to thrash out the final details.

Mr Cameron faced opposition to his draft deal in five key areas: securing an opt-out for Britain from the EU’s commitment to ‘ever closer union’; securing rules to protect the City from the eurozone countries; curbing welfare payments to migrants, treaty change and making his changes irreversible by securing treaty change.

The PM said: ‘The question of Britain’s place in Europe has been allowed to fester for too long and it is time to deal with it'

 Eastern European leaders were demanding yet more changes to the Prime Minister’s plan for an emergency brake on the payment of in-work benefits, such as tax credits, to migrant workers

 Countries such as Poland are fearful that other member states such as Germany might seek to copy the UK’s proposal. Mr Cameron was also struggling to secure agreement that the brake could be put in place for seven years.

In any event, it amounts to only a partial restriction on tax credits – rather than the four-year outright ban promised in the Tory manifesto. On child benefit, Mr Cameron was under intense pressure to phase in his plan to reduce the level of payment made on behalf of youngsters who live abroad. Eastern European countries want it to be phased in over 16 years.

Mr Cameron was resisting in the talks last night, officials said, but he could be forced to compromise to get the deal through and agreed today.

The PM was also facing demands for an exemption from the changes to workers from the republic of Ireland.

Number 10 sources held out the prospect of talks ending today without a deal.

One aide said: ‘There are real outstanding issues to resolve. It is not clear how we do that.’ Another said: ‘If you thought we were on a train track, there are gaps in that track.’ Officials said the other EU leaders had said they wanted to keep Britain in the EU ‘but there was not much sign of that’.


Mr Cameron's talks at the EU summit will involve both formal sessions and conversations in the margins with key figures - including Commission president Jean Claude Junker, centre, and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, right, pictured at a summit last year
Mr Cameron’s talks at the EU summit will involve both formal sessions and conversations in the margins with key figures – including Commission president Jean Claude Junker, centre, and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, right, pictured at a summit last year

David Cameron’s deal with EU leaders is far from done and talks may go down to the wire tomorrow (FRI).

EU officials have scheduled a ‘brunch’ of English breakfast to nail down the final details.

Many points in the final document remain in ‘square brackets’, a mark in diplomatic circles indicated an unagreed point.

Government sources today insisted there was ‘broad support’ to find a way through on every point.

But there remains an impasse on several key areas:

  • Securing ‘treaty change’ on two points: the commitment to ‘ever closer union’ and how the eurozone works in relation to other countries like the pound.
  • The ‘red card’ mechanism for escalating issues of concern in member states to the European Council
  • The ’emergency brake’ on restricting benefit payments to migrants. There are particular difficulties on how long this will last.
  • Exactly how child benefit will be ‘indexed’ to local rates and whether the change will apply to new migrants only or people already in Britain.

Government sources said: ‘The PM will be battling hard on all of those areas, seeking to fix the issues that really matter to people here in Britain.’

The second draft of Mr Cameron's proposals highlighted problems around the deal on the currency, pictured. Government sources today made clear the issue was not yet resolved as the final summit began 

The second draft of Mr Cameron’s proposals highlighted problems around the deal on the currency, pictured. Government sources today made clear the issue was not yet resolved as the final summit began

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