Downing Street has admitted that an early referendum on British membership of the European Union is not on the cards, after the German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that she would not rescue the Prime Minister’s plans to curb migrants’ benefits.
David Cameron is currently attempting to renegotiate aspects of Britain’s membership of the EU ahead of a planned referendum on whether or not the country should leave the bloc. The options put to the public will be to leave, or to remain under the renegotiated terms.
Securing meaningful changes is therefore key for the Conservative administration if they want to see Britain remain within the Union. However, plans to curb migrants’ benefits by limiting access to in-work benefits for migrants until they have been working in the UK for four years, have been poorly received by eastern European countries, many of which have sizeable native populations within the UK workforce, The Telegraph has reported. Mr. Cameron may even be forced to withdraw the strongest part of his plan, according to exclusive polling revealed by Breitbart London.
They are insisting that the plans contravene rules against discrimination, and therefore undermine the whole concept of the European Union.
“If you haven’t lived in the UK for a number of years, for example, and you are a British citizen or a Czech citizen the same rules should apply,” Tomas Prouza, the Czech minister for European affairs, told The Telegraph.
The Visegrad bloc, which represents Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, said it would not entertain “any discrimination and limitations to free movement”.
One insider said: “It is highly discriminatory. This cannot go through. It is very difficult because we think that discrimination is against the free movement of labour principle.”
Another added: “It is discrimination. We get the British position. But how can we do it without violating this fundamental principle? In the European Union, all are treated equally, a fundamental principle of the single market.”
But Germany, unwilling to be seen as the de facto leader of the bloc, is refusing to lobby on behalf of the British government or force the smaller nations to fall in line despite Merkel’s wish to see Britain remain within the Union. Mrs Merkel is said to be resentful of the fact that the migrant crisis and the Greek debt crisis have forced Germany to set terms for the Union as a whole.
“Germany is not the referee of Europe. The British came up with this – now all 28 will sort it out,” a German source has said.
British ministers had hoped for a fast track renegotiation, followed by a referendum in April next year. They are particualarly keen to see a referendum sooner rather than later as, in the midst of the migrant crisis erupting across the continent, public attitudes towards the bloc are hardening.
A number of recent polls have suggested that the vote would narrowly be won by those who want to leave, prompting one senior insider to reckon that the chances of staying in had slipped from being a safe bet to being about 50/50.
On Monday, the European Council president Donald Tusk will publish an assessment of the British demands in a letter to the 27 other member states. He has said that a meeting scheduled for mid-December will “pave the way” for an agreement in February. By law, once the deal is announced the minimum campaigning period for the referendum will be 16 weeks.