David Cameron has given up hope of a new membership deal for Britain at this month’s EU summit after European allies reacted with alarm to him stepping up demands for treaty changes to ban benefits for new migrant workers.
At a series of meetings this week the British prime minister told EU leaders he had “changed his mind” and now needed immediate treaty revisions enshrining a four-year benefit ban if he was to campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
But his push for a December deal was abandoned on Thursday during a call with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Downing Street said “difficult issues” remained and that it was unrealistic to think they could all be settled before the meeting on December 17-18.
The prime minister is now focused on concluding a deal at a second summit in mid-February, leaving open the possibility of a British referendum in June.
His decision to ease the tempo was greeted with relief in European capitals. Some senior participants in the negotiations claimed Mr Cameron’s week of brinkmanship had made British exit from the union a more real prospect than ever before. [...]
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