British Prime Minister David Cameron will press European Council President Donald Tusk at a meeting Sunday night to restrict benefits for EU migrants to the U.K. for the next seven years, according to officials involved in the negotiations.
The latest demand means every EU migrant who arrives in Britain at any time over the next seven years would need to wait four years to receive government benefits, the officials said.
The proposal is an ambitious request as time runs out on the negotiations. A draft of the U.K.’s demands is set to be distributed to the 27 other EU leaders Monday, two weeks ahead of a crucial summit February 18. The main sticking point has been Cameron’s request to place a four-year ban on in-work benefits for EU migrants.
The European Commission has offered to create an “emergency brake” that would activate the ban when a country could prove that its public services have been overwhelmed. Cameron has argued that the brake should be activated immediately after the UK referendum and for a substantial period of time.
Now, Cameron wants the final draft proposal to state that the brake would remain in effect for seven years.
“The prime minister will tell Tusk that the ‘brake’ proposal sketched out so far does not go far enough and will need to be significantly strengthened if it is to be as powerful as the prime minister’s four-year proposal,” a senior U.K. government source said. “He will also argue that it should only be a stop gap to a more permanent mechanism.”
Cameron will demand “greater ambition” across the board, the source said.
“The prime minister intends to leave Tusk in no doubt that he will not do a deal at any price, making clear he is not in a hurry and that it’s far more important to secure significant reforms,” the U.K. government source said.
Cameron’s goal is to have the strongest text presented to the leaders Monday. Too many brackets in the draft weakens the demands, showing that they’re negotiable.
“The discussion with Tusk will be about the figures — should there be seven years in the draft or just an ‘X’ to be negotiated?” an EU diplomat involved in the negotiations told POLITICO on Sunday.
“Tusk has a few options: Either he puts seven years in the draft and sees if the other member states will accept it or he puts a lower number like the Commission’s position of four years or he puts no figure, an ‘X’ into brackets to be discussed.”
“If he puts seven, it will be easier for Cameron,” the diplomat said.
As of Sunday afternoon, there was an “X” in the document, according to a second EU official.
The seven-year emergency brake is a political statement for Cameron. He plans to sell it as a way to make up for the period of time when former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair allowed the free flow of Eastern European migrants to the U.K. after the EU expansion in 2004.
When Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia joined the EU, existing EU countries had the option to restrict these workers from entering their labor markets for seven years. Germany, France and Italy upheld certain restrictions for these nationals, but the U.K. opened its markets immediately.
“Cameron will say he’s repairing the mistakes of Tony Blair, using the seven years that Blair didn’t use, but obviously this emergency brake does not offer the same restrictions,” the diplomat said.
“Politically, he will say it was a mistake made by Blair and the Labour party at the time, that why there’s been a flood of Eastern Europeans into our markets.”
But the diplomat warned that the seven-year period is considered excessive to many already and may be a hard sell for Cameron.
Another EU official said, “There’s a certain type of logic to this, but it proved to all of the countries that letting these people in was an economic advantage, as the British economy has grown since.”
Spokespersons for the U.K. government and European Council declined to comment.
Tusk tweeted Sunday afternoon that he will present “solutions” to Cameron when the meet later in the evening.
“Agreement must be acceptable for whole EU28. No compromise on fundamental freedoms,” Tusk wrote.
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