British PM pleads for leaders’ help stay in EU

British Prime Minister David Cameron pleads for EU leaders’ help keep Britain in bloc, stating he wants to see 'real progress'

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

British Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to hold a briefing during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels on December 18, 2015

British Prime Minister David Cameron called for European Union leaders on Thursday to agree upon “substantial reforms” and demonstrate flexibility on migration which Britain needed for him to persuade voters to stay in the bloc, saying that he wanted to see “real progress” on his four demands.

Cameron said to the 27 other national leaders in the European Council summit that if they wanted to keep Britain in the bloc at the referendum in which he promised to hold within two years, they must address British voters’ concerns on immigration.

"Tonight, here in Brussels, we are going to have a conversation dedicated to Britain's renegotiation of its position in Europe and I want to see real progress in all of the four areas that I have mentioned," Cameron said upon arrival.

"We're not pushing for a deal tonight but we're pushing for real momentum so that we can get this deal done. So I will be battling for Britain right through the night and I think we'll be getting a good deal."

Although EU leaders leant towards the migration issue, Cameron’s push to curb welfare payments to refugees from the bloc struggled with some for potentially breaking EU principles of non-discrimination and the free movement of people.

Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, known as the Visegrad Group, said in a joint statement that they would refuse Cameron’s demands to change EU laws and consider it as discrimination against their citizens or limit their freedom of movement.

"The levels of migration we have seen in a relatively short period of time are unprecedented, including the pressure this places on communities and public services. This is a major concern of the British people that is undermining support for the European Union," Cameron said.

"We need to find an effective answer to this problem," he added.

European Council President Donald Tusk arrives at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels on December 17, 2015 (Reuters)

Cameron’s statements came after European Council President Donald Tusk told the summit that there was good progress on three of London’s four main demands. However, the fourth, denying EU refugees in-work benefits for four years, was “very difficult” to be achieved.

Other EU leaders around the dinner table said that they wanted to help Cameron keep Europe’s second biggest economy and one of its two top military powers in the bloc.

However, Cameron’s proposal to make refugees from the other 27 EU countries wait four years before claiming “in-work” benefits in Britain was criticised, especially in Eastern Europe, by several leaders stating that it would break the fundamental EU principles.

Opinions polls indicated that the number of British citizens wanting to leave the country is increasing.

An EU official said that Tusk gave everyone a chance to speak their mind on Thursday night to seek a deal at the next summit in mid-February.

A British official said that Cameron did not offer alternatives to his four-year proposal at the summit, but he was open to hear whether other leaders had better alternatives which would help control the influx of EU refugees into Britain.

"Are we going to find the flexibility to address the concerns of the UK and work together to fix this?" He asked.

Cameron sat in silence for more than three hours as other EU leaders were discussing ways of controlling the wave of refugees that divided European governments, an EU diplomat said that the UK refused to take any refugees from Europe.

TRTWorld and agencies