Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking a “credible deal” he can sell to the British people to persuade them to stay in the European Union.
British officials are frustrated at a lack of practical concessions from the bloc which is wary of Cameron’s bid to sidestep EU regulation and cut immigration, Reuters reports.
“I would say the going is tough. This could be a long night,” a British official told reporters after a first round of talks.
“While many countries were saying they want to help, they want to make sure they keep Britain in the EU. There wasn’t much sign of how they are planning to do that in practice, not showing much room for maneuver,” the official said.
Diplomats from other countries said no new obstacles had arisen in more than two hours of negotiations in which most of the 28 leaders set out their national positions.
There was little reason to doubt a deal would be worked out by Friday afternoon.
Many leaders said they felt a historic turning point for European integration.
No country has ever voted to leave the Union and a British exit could deal a blow to the UK economy and certainly damage the EU’s standing and self confidence.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who fears Brexit would be deeply harmful to Ireland, urged leaders to help Cameron.
He told peers according to one participant: “You all have your problems but no one has bigger problems than David. He’s got half his cabinet against him, he’s got half his party against him.
“We have to give him a deal he can take home and sell to the British people.”
The Irish leader quoted English playwright William Shakespeare’s Scottish king Macbeth to press for a speedy conclusion. He told them: “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.”
Cameron plans to put the result of his renegotiation to a high stakes referendum perhaps as early as June 23 that will determine whether Europe’s second biggest economy and one of its two main military powers stays in the EU.
How far the reform package will sway voters either way is unclear.
Cameron’s left-wing Labor opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, was also in Brussels where he echoed Conservative euroskeptics in describing the likely immigration deal as a “theatrical sideshow”. But Labour plans to campaign to remain in the bloc.
The leaders were working to overcome differences on the most contentious areas of Cameron’s demands for financial safeguards and curbs on some benefits for EU migrant workers in Britain.
“The question of Britain’s place in Europe has been allowed to fester for too long and it is time to deal with it,” Cameron told them at the first working session.
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