A British government Cabinet meeting intended to fire the starting gun on the UK’s Brexit referendum – originally scheduled for Friday – is now increasingly unlikely, according to 10 Downing Street
British Prime Minister David Cameron is still in Brussels engaged in a lengthy negotiation process in which the President of the European Council Donald Tusk has held bilateral talks with all of the European Union heads of government.
Thursday night’s talks continued until 5:30 am on Friday without agreement and hopes that an agreement could be presented over “an Engish breakfast” to “an English lunch” or around 1.30 pm our time.
As lunchtime approached there was much talk that negotiations could continue over the weekend into Sunday, if necessary.
PM: I'm in Brussels where I'm negotiating hard for Britain. I'm clear, I'm not prepared to take a deal that does not meet what Britain needs
— UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) February 18, 2016
Britain is hoping to ‘put a brake” on migration, ever increasing union, payment of in-work benefits to EU migrant workers, and curtail children’s allowance payments to non-UK-based dependents of EU migrants.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK Dan Mulhall have stressed that such changes would not, or should not, apply to Irish nationals working in the UK as they are covered by much older, long-standing bilateral arrangements between the two countries and their own special relationship.
Mr. Cameron’s original plan had been to return to London and convene an emergency cabinet after which a referendum date of 23 June would be announced and he and Chancellor George Osborne would lead the campaign to keep Britain within the UK.
At the same time those Cabinet ministers in favour of Britain leaving are to be allowed campaign for an ‘Out’ vote – as Harold Wilson allowed his Labour Cabinet members to do in the mid-1970s – while leadership hopeful like Boris Johnson has continued to flirt with both sides.
Although opinion polls show a lead for those in favour of leaving the EU the large proportion of undecided lead pro-EU campaigners to believe they can sway public opinion to their side between now and June.
Ireland, which opposes Brexit, also believes that because it is so delicately balanced the large numbers of Irish people in the UK – all of whom enjoy full voting rights – could even potentially swing the balance in favour of staying.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said that while she believes it will be difficult for many states to agree there is sufficient good will to agree an acceptable package for the UK.
France’s President Francois Hollande has, however, baulked at what he sees as special protective measures for Britain’s financial centre, the City of London operating outside of the Eurozone.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he believed the whole process will take longer than originally timetabled by the British government.
— Bloomberg Business (@business) February 19, 2016
The five key areas in which agreement has not been reached are:
How the EU’s binding treaties will be altered to make the changes
How many member states can trigger an “emergency brake” on migrant welfare
For how long a member state can impose restrictions on in-work benefits for migrants
Whether child benefit curbs can be applied retrospectively
Changing treaties to alter the principle of “ever-closer” union
Many central European nations – and several hundred thousand of their nationals have entered Britain since 2004 – are resisting some of the UK’s plans to curb in-work benefits for EU migrants and to retrospectively cut child benefit for those children of migrant workers in Britain who have remained in their home country.
It has also been complicated by Franco-Belgian proposals intended to thwart Eurosceptic plans to send David Cameron back to extract further concessions should they succeed in winning a ‘Leave’ vote.
Belgium and France want any deal agreed this week to be final and once and for all.