European Council president Donald Tusk has announced that a new agreement with the UK may be possible by February – but it may not contain all of Cameron’s terms relating to welfare and immigration.

Tusk said in a letter to David Cameron: “We have made good progress,” adding that “we … have to overcome the substantial political differences that we still have on the issue of social benefits and free movement.”

“We should be able to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February.”

Tusk will chair the first detailed talks on Britain’s demands next week, between the British prime minister and all his 27 peers, and he appears confident an agreement on Cameron’s main points will be reached. However, Cameron’s demands concerning welfare and immigration present the trickiest task:

“There is presently no consensus on the request that people coming to Britain from the EU must live there and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing,” Tusk said.

Many European leaders see this as illegal discrimination and denying a fundamental freedom to EU citizens. Anti-EU campaigners have used Tusk’s letter to argue that, should an agreement be reached, it will contain only minor changes designed to placate Britain.

However, pro-EU campaigners published a report yesterday stating that a ‘Brexit’ would have a real negative impact on the UK, causing the economy to shrink and threatening the Northern Ireland peace process. The first chapter of the report says that “the initial shock would be huge and the consequences unclear. Several factors would make this an exceptionally serious crisis.”

David Cameron sent his four demands to Donald Tusk last month, signalling the beginning of a negotiation process for a new British-EU agreement. An in-out referendum on the subject must be held in 2017.



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