David Cameron says he is hopeful a deal with fellow European leaders can be achieved by February, as Angela Merkel signals that a compromise is possible.
The Prime Minister is seeking a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of an in/out referendum, and has been trying to convince other leaders to back his demands, including a four-year ban on European migrants claiming in-work benefits in the UK.
He set out his case in a 40-minute presentation in Brussels on Thursday night, referring to the “unprecedented” levels of immigration Britain had experienced and the effect this was having on public services.
He said afterwards: “I would say today what has happened is we have taken a big step to a better deal for Britain, but there is still a lot of hard work to be done, and it is going to need to be done between now and February 18.
“Nothing is certain in life, nor in Brussels, but what I would say is there is a pathway through this to a deal in February.”
European Council President Donald Tusk said he aimed to table a text on proposed reforms at a summit in February, but he and other Euopean leaders made it clear that they would not agree to any proposals that were discriminatory.
Mrs Merkel said European leaders had been adamant that they wanted the UK to remain in the EU and there was a “readiness to compromise”.
But she added that this was “always with a regard to the protection of the fundamental principles of the EU”, such as non-discrimination and freedom of movement. “I think with a good will, we can find a good way,” she said.
Mr Cameron is facing pressure from Conservative MPs to secure concessions ahead of the referendum on EU membership promised by the end of 2017. He had hoped to agree a deal by Christmas, but now sees February as a more realistic target.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “David Cameron came, saw, and got hammered. How many times can his little plans be rejected? He was told to come back in February, when I suspect he will probably get a few minor concessions.”
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the government was “deadly serious” about measures to prevent the country’s benefits system being a “magnet for migration”.
He played down the prospect of an “emergency brake” on migration being a suitable alternative to the welfare curbs proposed by Mr Cameron, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a “short-term solution” would not be enough.