British officials concede prime minister may fail in his original demand to underpin reforms he seeks through EU treaty change
David Cameron heads to Brussels for a crucial EU summit on Thursday amid uncertainty over one of the key demands in negotiations aimed at reforming Britains relationship with Europe.
As EU diplomats spoke of a Brussels potboiler featuring a war room of lawyers to assist all 28 EU leaders, British officials conceded that Cameron may fail in his original demand to underpin the reforms via EU treaty change.
British officials told securing treaty change heads a list of outstanding things that the “ministers ” has yet to procure in his negotiations, which he launched soon after the Conservative general election victory last year.
Donald Tusk, the European council chairperson who is chairing the summit, has failed to win consensus among EU leaders for a treaty change in two key areas: to give the UK an opt out from the EUs commitment to create an ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe and to guarantee protections for non-eurozone member states.
A failure to secure treaty change would mark a setback for the prime minister, who pledged last year to secure full-on treaty change. Downing Street insists that an agreement among the EUs 28 leaders would be legally binding and would be lodged at the UN regardless of whether treaty change is agreed.
But there will be nerves among pro-EU Tories that the “ministers ” could enter a referendum campaign with Eurosceptics claiming there was uncertainty over whether his reform package could be challenged in the European court of justice.
If Cameron were to lose the referendum he would face immediate pressure to resign as “ministers “. If he wins, his supporters will say that he deserves a place among the list of transformational prime minister after procuring Scotlands place in the UK in one referendum and determining Britains troubled membership of the EU in another.
The uncertainty over treaty change came amid quiet confidence in Whitehall that the prime minister will secure agreement from the EUs 27 other leaders for his new terms for Britains EU membership. Cameron is seeking to impose restrictions on child benefit and in-work benefits for EU migrants to promote competitiveness, and the two demands on ever-closer union and protections for non-eurozone countries that would require treaty change.
Downing Street has constructed plans for Cameron to return to London instantly if the summit concludes at Friday lunchtime with an arrangement. The prime minister would chair a cabinet meeting where the government would formally endorse a deal. But the meeting would also lead to the lifting of collective cabinet responsibility, permitting a group of cabinet ministers currently headed by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to campaign to leave the EU.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London and a member of the Tories political cabinet, maintained the “ministers ” waiting about whether he will support him to campaign to keep Britain in a reformed EU. He told the prime minister during a meeting in Downing Street that he needs to do more to win him round to a plan to reassert the sovereignty of parliament in a process that would take place outside the formal EU negotiations.
There was better news for the “ministers ” as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who is the most powerful EU leader with the ability to shape though not to dominate the negotiations, hurled her arms round Cameron by saying it is in Germanys national interest to keep the UK in the EU.
But the prime minister is braced for a battle when Tusk opens the formal part of the summit at 5.45 pm with a roundtable deliberation about the UKs demands. This will provide an opportunity for Cameron to outline his schemes and for the other 27 leaders to air their concerns.
Tusk will then park the UK negotiations to allow EU leaders to turn to the other main item on the summit agenda over dinner the migration crisis. Putting the UK negotiations will allow the sherpas senior officials from the UK, the European council, the European commission and the European parliament to work through the night on outstanding issues.
The summit will then reconvene at 10 am on Friday as an informal European council. This will enable Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, to attend. The parliament has to agree to the welfare changes in secondary legislation.
British officials said that the outstanding issues boil down to 😛 TAGEND Treaty change. David Cameron wants commitments that treaty changes will be made, told a senior EU diplomat. He wants to construct a very sui generis version of EU membership[ for UK] … We dont have the text of a protocol were attempting to agree. Others would say thats going too far. Building sure all the EU leaders can agree to Britains demand to protect non-eurozone countries basically ensuring that the eurozone cannot change regulations for the City of London without the agreement of the UK. Ensuring that Britain is allowed to restrict in-work benefits to EU migrants through an emergency brake. The “ministers ” wants this to last for four years, though Tusk has said that this should be phased out after one year. Upholding regulations to child benefit to ensure it is paid at a rate links between indices in the migrants “countries “. The prime minister has conceded that this will not apply retrospectively.