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Britain to leave the EU? UPDATE

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Tom Culshaw
Written by Tom Culshaw

Cameron urged the leaders to recognise the unique nature of the British problem on migration, and its interaction with Britain’s welfare system.

Cameron also emphasised that British voters have felt let down by broken promises of EU referendums.

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David Cameron said on Thursday night that he had found a lane to progress on his task to create a new understanding with the European Union after a four and a half hour make-or-break talk with Britain’s European partners ended with an agreement to find a common solution by February.

In a late night press conference in Brussels, Cameron said the task ahead was very tough, and emphasised that he had not taken his widely rejected demand for a four-year ban on EU migrants receiving UK in-work benefit off the negotiating table.

In an encouraging response in the wake of the meeting, Germany’s Angela Merkel said it ‘may be possible to agree to a principle of treaty change now, but to implement those treaty changes later.’

She said: “We made it clear that we are ready to compromise, but always on the basis that we safeguard the core European principles, which include non-discrimination and free movement.

“Especially regarding the fourth pillar [on welfare benefits] it won’t be easy, but I still think that with good will we can find good solutions.”

Donald Tusk, the EU council’s president, said the meeting had been “a make-or-break moment”. Although hard work lay ahead, he said he planned to produce a plan ahead of the next EU summit in February.

He said: “The most important thing was atmosphere and good will”. Tusk accepted the issue of welfare and free movement remained “the most delicate and difficult”.

“We have to respect what David Cameron has said and we have to respect some members’ needs,” added Tusk. “Truly speaking we are absolutely sure we have to be tough with regard to some red lines and we will not give up on free movement or unfair discrimination, but today I know David Cameron is looking for a fair solution.

“To me the clearest message is that no one including David Cameron is ready to accept discrimination.”

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“The three alternative solutions remain a shorter ban on access to benefits, an emergency brake that allows the UK to put a halt to EU migration if the flows become excessive and a ban on both UK and EU citizens receiving benefits until they have made social security contributions for a fixed period.”

 

Cameron said the British government was attempting “something very tough by holding a referendum at a time of our choosing with a mandate from the British people”. Insisting there was momentum behind his campaign, he added there was “enormous support for keeping the UK in the EU”.

He added: “They [the British people] want to know that this is not an unstoppable EU. They want to know that this is not a single currency club. They want to know that this organisation is adding to competitiveness, and they want to know it is not creating unsustainable pressure on migration.”

 

Cameron’s speech was designed to reset Britain’s 42 year old relationship with the European Union, he again relayed a case for a four-year ban on migrants’ benefits and stressed that migration will push Britain away from the EU.

Cameron urged the leaders to recognise the unique nature of the British problem on migration, and its interaction with Britain’s welfare system.

He said: “The levels of migration we have seen in a relatively short period of time are unprecedented, including the pressures this places on communities and public services. 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.

“Countries need flexibility so they can make changes to their welfare systems to better manage migration.”

He asked his partners: “Are we going to find the flexibility to address the concerns of the UK and work together to fix this?”

Cameron also emphasised that British voters have felt let down by broken promises of EU referendums.

He also stressed there needed to be clear rules codifying the relationship between members of the eurozone and those outside.

The prime minister promised to battle for Britain “all night”.

There has been private concern that the UK’s future relationship with the EU was starting to turn on what may emerge to be a relatively narrow issue of the length of time EU migrants should be making social security contributions in the UK before they can claim in-work benefits.

The precise number of EU migrants currently claiming benefits in the UK is also a matter of dispute after HMRC rejected a freedom of information request to give up-to-date figures of EU migrants claiming benefits, saying it would interfere with government policymaking and not be helpful to the UK’s negotiations with its EU partners.

HMRC later admitted it had withheld the numbers but said it had been wrong to suggest this was linked to the EU negotiations. Downing Street said the figures will be collated in time for a referendum.

The EU leaders rejecting the UK’s proposal for a four-year ban on in-work benefits were led by Xavier Bettel, prime minister of Luxembourg and the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency.

He said: “There are clear red lines and I don’t think that many other people will support Mr Cameron in the direction of limiting those values on which Europe has been constructed. He made a series of proposals, but there are also limits that aren’t acceptable to us.”

“There should be possibilities to arrive at solutions if there’s a readiness for movement on all sides,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, told reporters. “We’d like to preserve Great Britain as a member, without however restricting the basic freedoms – non-discrimination, freedom of movement.”

“We want to listen to Mr Cameron,” the French president, François Hollande, said. “We know his proposals, but they’ll be clarified: if they are in line with European agreements, there can be a negotiation, otherwise the negotiation will be a bit more difficult.”

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