David Cameron insists he is “making progress” in his renegotiation with Brussels over the UK’s relationship with the EU, despite claiming the current proposals are “not good enough”.
The Prime Minister is in Brussels this afternoon holding talks with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker over whether the UK can hold back in-work benefits from EU migrants.
Mr Cameron originally wanted to halt in-work benefits for migrants for four years, but is struggling to convince his EU partners to back the deal.
One proposal believed to be under consideration is a so-called emergency brake, which would allow the UK to stop paying benefits to new migrants if public services were under excessive strain.
However, the UK would have to ask permission from Brussels before using the brake, leading veteran Eurosceptic Tory MP John Redwood to brand the plan a “bad joke”.
This afternoon, Mr Cameron dismissed the current proposals, and said: “We want to end the idea of something for nothing. There is now a proposal on the table, it is not good enough, it needs more work but we are making progress.”
The Prime Minister will have to move fast if he wants to secure a deal before the next European summit on February 18.
If the renegotiation is concluded at the summit, it would pave the way for the in/out referendum to be held in June this year.
A quick referendum could well give the advantage to the Remain campaign, with those wanting the UK to vote to Leave the EU currently split into numerous campaign groups.
Vote Leave – which is headed up by Michael Gove’s former adviser Dominic Cummings – is believed to be in a state of fracture, with Tory MP Bernard Jenkin reported to be unhappy with the way the group is being run.
Leave.EU – co-founded by Ukip donor Arron Banks – is pitching itself as the ‘anti-establishment’ group, and is focusing on mobilising an army of activists around the country.
Leave.EU's spokesman Brian Montieth branded today's negotiations as "pure theatre".
He said: "Jean-Claude Juncker, the president we never voted for, offered the Prime Minister an emergency brake on migrant benefits with his hand on it. People watching the slow-motion car crash in Europe don't want that; they want control of the steering wheel.
"Even if David Cameron gets everything he wants, it's just a four-year waiting list for access to in-work benefits, which the OBR says will have no impact on immigration.
"EU law will still stand above national law, we still won't be allowed to make our own trade deals or cast votes independently on global bodies, and we won't have anything like full control over immigration."
"This renegotiation is a road to nowhere, with Mr Cameron staring vacantly out of the passenger seat window."