The Prime Minister has spent the day focused on the EU renegotiation with many constructive phone calls and meetings. Last night and this morning while on his way to Brussels, the Prime Minister called the Prime Ministers of Denmark and Sweden respectively to express his regret that he had been unable to visit today. Both Rasmussen and Lofven thanked the Prime Minister for the call, and said they understood.
On arrival in Brussels, the Prime Minister met with the President of the European Commission for a working lunch. They discussed the state of play in the negotiations and the Prime Minister underlined that while there had been progress, there was still a lot more work to do. They spent some time on the trickiest issue of welfare – the Prime Minister welcomed the fact that there is now an acceptance of the concept that EU migrants should not be able to claim benefits before contributing to the welfare system, but reiterated that any alternative to the government’s proposal to restrict in-work benefits for 4 years would need to be equally effective. They also discussed the further progress that is still required in all other areas – on sovereignty, on economic governance and on competitiveness. As the Prime Minister said afterwards, ‘it’s going to be hard work’.
After lunch, the Prime Minister met with the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who expressed his commitment to finding solutions in all 4 areas that would address the concerns of the British people, including action in the area of welfare.
Late this afternoon, the Prime Minister called President Hollande to discuss where the negotiations have got to. The Prime Minister said that a deal in February remained possible if significant progress can be made in the coming days. The Prime Minister said that if the deal on the table for February wasn’t right, he wouldn’t take it – there is no hurry and it is more important to fundamentally reform the UK’s relationship with the EU. They also touched on a number of other issues, notably the ongoing close co-operation on counter-terrorism, Syria and the humanitarian crisis and Iran, where both agreed there is an opportunity now to step up trade links with Tehran.