EU battle to nail down 'Brexit' deal drags into second day

19th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron admitted there was "still no deal" Friday as he headed into a second day of talks after all-night negotiations failed to deliver an agreement to stop Britain crashing out of the EU.

A string of European leaders have dug their heels in over Cameron's demands, which include reducing welfare payments to EU migrants and opting out of a commitment to ever-closer union, forcing him into a corner.

"We've made some progress but there is still no deal," Cameron said as he entered fresh talks at the Brussels summit, five hours after the previous night's negotiations broke up.

"As I have said, I would only do a deal if we get what Britain needs, so we are going to get back in there."

A source in Cameron's Downing Street office said there were "some signs of progress but nothing yet agreed and still a lot to do".

Under pressure from eurosceptics in his Conservative Party and an anti-EU popular press, Cameron wants sweeping reforms to the 28-member bloc which he hopes will stop Britain from becoming the first nation to leave the EU in a membership referendum likely in June.

The Brussels deadlock threatens to derail Cameron's plan to announce the date of the referendum in London Friday after securing a deal and flying home for an emergency Cabinet meeting.

Cameron was set to hold further talks with EU president Donald Tusk at 11:45am (1045 GMT).

The British premier has hit opposition from France and Belgium over his bid to make clear Britain is not committed to ever-closer union and ensure that the City of London financial district is not bound by rules governing the euro single currency area.

Going into the talks Friday, Hollande again made clear his objection, saying he wanted a single rule book to "fight financial crises together".

- 'English breakfast' becomes lunch -

On day one of the meeting Thursday, Cameron urged his fellow EU leaders to reach a "credible" reform deal and called for a "sort of live and let live" approach to allow different visions of EU membership.

He added that the issue of Britain's place in Europe "has been allowed to fester for too long" and there was now a chance "to settle this issue for a generation".

Cameron says he will back a "Yes" vote in the referendum if he can cut an acceptable deal in Brussels but aides say he is prepared to walk away if not.

Officials are refusing to rule out the possibility that Britain could become the first country to leave the EU in its more than 60-year history.

In the early hours of Friday, Tusk warned there was much more to do to bridge these sharp differences.

"For now I can only say that we have made some progress but a lot needs to be done," he said.

The timetable for the summit is slipping amid the disagreements -- EU officials had hoped Friday would begin with an "English Breakfast," with a deal served up for final approval.

However, as talks got bogged down, that became an "English Brunch" and now an "English Lunch" is on the menu at 1330 (1230 GMT) with a string of bilateral meetings beforehand.

- Support from Merkel -

Four Eastern European countries are objecting to Cameron's request for a limit to welfare benefit payments for EU migrants working in Britain for four years in a bid to curb the numbers coming over.

Brussels has offered an "emergency brake" to limit benefits for new migrants for four years, which Britain could invoke if its welfare system is overwhelmed by the inflow of workers, as it believes it has been.

But Poland and other eastern European member states who have hundreds of thousands of citizens in Britain bitterly oppose such a change, saying it would discriminate against them and undermine the EU's core principle of freedom of movement.

On the plus side, Cameron has won the crucial support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said: "Advantages are higher than disadvantages when there is Brexit".

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, another Cameron ally, warned that talks could even drag on into Saturday.

"We cannot exclude that this will spill over into the weekend," he said early Friday

British opinion polls suggest a narrow lead for those who want to stay in the EU but there does seem to have been a modest increase in the 'No' camp. Many voters are thought to be undecided.

© 2016 AFP

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