David Cameron has less than 24 hours to strike a deal with Brussels if he is to secure a reform package in time for an early EU referendum, after talks with the European Council president failed.
The Prime Minister had hoped to finalise a draft renegotiation of Britain's EU membership over dinner on Sunday evening with Donald Tusk, so that it could be put to other leaders.
But after less than two hours of discussions, Mr Tusk left Downing saying "intensive work" would be required over the next 24 hours if a draft agreement was to be published on Tuesday. Asked about the dinner by reporters, the former Polish President declared “no deal”.
Mr Cameron said it was “a good meeting” on his Twitter account.
A good meeting with @eucopresident, who has agreed to another 24 hours of talks before publishing the draft UK renegotiation text.— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) January 31, 2016
Attempting to impress their guests, Downing Street laid on a dinner of smoked salmon followed by roast beef and apple and pear crumble for Mr Tusk and his advisers, according to reports in the Times.
It was reported, however, that Mr Cameron had secured a crucial assurance that a proposed “emergency brake” – a mechanism that could be put in place days after the referendum – on welfare payment to EU workers could be triggered on the present level of immigration.
It is Mr Cameron’s pledge to ban in-work benefits for EU migrants for four years that has been the most contentious point throughout the Prime Minister’s renegotiation talks with European leaders. Eastern European countries – who believe this unilateral ban will adversely affect their citizens – have expressed the benefit change would be discriminatory and in breach of the freedom of movement principle.
No deal yet. Intensive work in next 24 crucial. #UKinEU— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) January 31, 2016
While Mr Cameron has not said explicitly how long such a “brake” would last, Downing Street sources said it would have to be for a meaningful length of time – perhaps as long as seven years with re-assessments.
Mr Tusk is expected to issue a report on 1 February setting out the broad legal basis of the proposals. However any final deal will have to win the approval of all 27 member states at a European Council meeting later this month.
Ahead of the talks, Downing Street claimed: “The Prime Minister intends to leave Mr Tusk in no doubt that he will not do a deal at any price, making clear he is not in a hurry and that it’s far more important to secure significant reforms.” A crucial summit will go ahead in less than three weeks.