David Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU is entering an “intensive” 24 hours after European Council President Donald Tusk left a Downing Street dinner saying no deal had been reached.
Mr Tusk met with the Prime Minster this evening, but after less than two hours inside Number 10 emerged to say no agreement had been struck.
However, a Downing Street source told the Huffington Post UK that progress had been made on key issues – including the so-called ‘emergency brake’ on in-work benefits to EU migrants.
Mr Tusk even went as far as agreeing that the UK’s current EU net migration level of 180,000 a year would meet the criteria for the brake to applied.
UK negotiators will begin work at the “crack of dawn” tomorrow the source said in order to try and reach an agreement on the detail of the brake within 24 hours.
The source said: “Tusk agreed to an extra 24 hours of intensive talks.
“He was due to publish the text of the draft deal tomorrow, but that will probably be Tuesday at the earliest.”
He added: “There was a significant breakthrough on the emergency brake, with Tusk acknowledging that the current circumstance in the UK would meet the criteria to trigger the brake.”
The source said the deal was “still not quite there” and there were further discussions to be had over issues including the abuse of free movement, such as sham marriages.
In a statement, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “On welfare, the Commission have tabled a text making clear that the UK’s current circumstances meet the criteria for triggering the emergency brake.
"This is a significant breakthrough, meaning the Prime Minister can deliver on his commitment to restrict in work benefits to EU migrants for four years.
“But there are still areas where there is more to do and both agreed it was therefore worth taking the extra time to make further progress.
“One such area is economic governance where we want to ensure the enforcement mechanism is watertight, recognising that there must be ways to escalate an issue where we have concerns.
"Another is abuse of free movement, where we want to see more substantive proposals including closing backdoor routes to Britain which have enabled non-EU illegal migrants to stay in Britain in recent years."
The ‘emergency brake’ would enable the UK to introduce a halt on in-work benefit to new migrants if public services were deemed to be under strain from immigration.
Brussels favour the brake system over Mr Cameron’s original plan to stop migrants accessing any in-work benefits for the first four years they work in the UK.
Prior to this evening, it was believed both sides are quibbling over when the brake could be activated, with the Prime Minister reported to be wanting to operate the policy – which would last for four years – at the current levels of immigration.
After a dinner of smoked salmon, beef with vegetables, and pear and apple crumble, Mr Tusk left without reaching an agreement with Mr Cameron and tweeted:
Tonight’s dinner with Mr Tusk comes just days after Mr Cameron travelled to Brussels to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Parliament president Martin Schulz.
The increase in diplomatic activity has caused speculation that Mr Cameron wants to have all the pieces in place to finalise a deal at the European summit which begins on February 18.
If negotiations could be concluded then, it would pave the way for a June referendum – something thought to favour the Remain campaign as the Leave camps are in a state of disarray.
He also claimed Ukip leader Nigel Farage – who is backing the rival anti-Brussels campaign Leave.EU – did not have a broad enough appeal to lead a unified Leave group.