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David Cameron and Czech PM discuss 'emergency brake' to solve migrants impasse

Published 22/01/2016

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

David Cameron has discussed the possibility of Britain getting an "emergency brake" on high EU migration levels with his Czech Republic counterpart.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Prague, Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka again played down the prospects of the UK securing its proposal of a four-year ban on migrants getting in-work benefits - saying he would not accept "discriminatory" measures.

But he added: "We discussed possible alternatives forward on this issue. The UK has introduced their proposal... we discussed other possible alternatives to meet the same objective, ie make it possible for the UK government to respond to the mass influx of workers.

"This option involves giving a member state the possibility of an emergency brake if there is immense pressure on its welfare system."

He said: "It is very important for us that any solution that is adopted on a European level does not discriminate."

Mr Cameron made clear that the four-year proposal was still on the table, but he said he "welcomed" alternatives that would have a similar impact on migration.

He said he would not rush an agreement if it was not "available" in time for the Brussels summit on February 18.

But he indicated he still thought a deal was possible by then, pointing to the "goodwill" of other states.

"I firmly believe there is a pathway to an agreement. I am confident that with the help of European partners and with goodwill we will be able to get there and find mutually satisfactory conclusions," he said.

Mr Cameron's predecessor as Conservative leader delivered a gloomy assessment of the PM's chances of securing a good enough reform deal to justify keeping Britain in the European Union.

In comments which made clear he has not ruled out backing Brexit, Lord Howard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I am waiting to see what the Prime Minister is coming up with.

"I have always wanted the United Kingdom to remain in a genuinely reformed European Union. It is not looking very likely I have to say that we are going to see a genuinely-reformed European Union.

"We will have to wait and see. I have great respect and admiration for the Prime Minister. He may surprise us; he has been rather good at surprising us in the past."

The peer said he had "a lot of sympathy" with the view expressed by actor Sir Michael Caine in an interview with the programme, in which he said Britain should leave the EU unless there were "extremely significant" reforms.

The veteran actor said the consequences of a so-called Brexit were "scary" but so were those of being "dictated to by thousands of faceless civil servants".

He concluded: "I sort of feel certain we should come out."

Lord Howard said: "I have a lot of sympathy with what he said but I am prepared to wait and see what the final deal looks like and then I'll decide."

Responding to the Tory peer's comments, Mr Cameron's official spokeswoman told a Westminster media briefing: "The Prime Minister has spoken before of the fact that there are many different views around on this debate.

"He is clear that the reforms we are seeking are substantial and significant and will really change our relationship and our membership of the EU."

Mr Cameron's proposal for a four-year ban on migrants claiming in-work benefits in the UK has become the main stumbling block, with the Government prepared to consider other options if they meet the aim of curbing the numbers coming from other member states.

The UK has been working to persuade members of the Visegrad Group - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary - to support the plans.

In December the group issued a joint statement saying they would back measures aimed at strengthening competitiveness and increasing the role of national parliaments, but they "consider free movement one of the fundamental values of the European Union and will support no proposal that would be discriminatory or restrictive with regard to this freedom".

German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble said he expected a deal would be concluded "soon", and warned Brexit would leave the EU weaker.

Speaking to the BBC via a translator, he said: "I believe that we will be able to find a solution for this. I believe that this is going to happen soon. In February we are going to have meetings, consultations.

"I am very optimistic that Great Britain is going to remain an EU member state. If somebody outside Europe reads the newspapers or listens to the news and hears that Great Britain is no longer an EU member then I don't think that Europe will still be the same symbol of performance and strength."

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