LONDON—European Council President Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister David Cameron failed on Sunday to strike a deal aimed at keeping the UK in the European Union (EU)—but agreed to extend talks between the two sides for another day.
Both sides had hoped the dinner meeting would close the gap over Britain’s demand for more control over immigration. But Tusk emerged from 10 Downing Street and told reporters there was “no deal.” Cameron tweeted that it had been a “good meeting” and said late Sunday the two men had agreed on “another 24 hours of talks” before proposals were published.
Before the meeting, Tusk had said that if the two men reached an agreement, he would present a draft text to the 27 other EU member-states on Monday.
After the two politicians failed to resolve their disagreements over a distinctively British dinner of smoked salmon, fillet of beef and fruit crumble, Tusk tweeted that “intensive work” over the next day would be crucial.
Britain and the EU have been hoping to reach a final pact at a February 18 and 19 summit—an increasingly unlikely prospect unless there is quick progress.
Welfare benefits have become the key issue, and main sticking point, in Britain’s negotiations with the rest of the EU before a UK referendum on whether to remain in the bloc. The referendum must be held by next year and could come as early as June.
Cameron wants to limit British welfare benefits to migrants from other EU countries—but other EU leaders say that undermines the right of EU citizens to work and live freely among member nations.
Britain’s Conservative government says hundreds of thousands of people from Eastern Europe who have flocked to the UK are straining schools, hospitals and social services.
On Friday, top EU officials offered Britain a mechanism known as an “emergency brake” that would let the UK temporarily limit tax credits—given to workers in low-paid jobs—and housing benefit to immigrants if the country’s welfare system comes under pressure.
The proposal could satisfy Britain’s goal of regaining some control over immigration and other countries’ desire to maintain the principle of free movement.
Cameron said the proposal was positive, but didn’t go far enough. Britain wants the “emergency brake” to take effect immediately after a British vote to stay in the EU, and last for as long as it takes to reduce the level of migration. Cameron’s initial proposal was for a four-year halt on benefits to new EU immigrants.
Cameron’s office said on Sunday that the meeting with Tusk had made progress on that key issue, but “there is still more hard work required.” Britain also wants more power ceded from Brussels to national parliaments, exemption from the EU’s commitment to “ever-closer union,” a reduction in EU red tape and protection for the nine EU countries, including Britain, that do not use the euro single currency.
Image credits: oby Melville/PA via AP