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David Cameron to campaign for UK to stay in EU after securing 'special status'

Published 19/02/2016

David Cameron
David Cameron

David Cameron hailed his historic EU re-negotiation deal, declaring that he has secured Britain's "special status" in the 28 nation bloc.

At the end of marathon talks in Brussels, the Prime Minister said he had achieved his negotiating aims and would be recommending the agreement to the British people in a referendum now expected to be held on June 23.

"This deal has delivered on the commitments I made at the beginning of this re-negotiation process. Britain will be permanently out of 'ever closer union', never part of a European superstate," he said.

"I believe that this is enough for me to recommend that the United Kingdom remains in the European Union."

After finally securing the backing of the other 27 EU leaders for his plan, Mr Cameron was heading back to London to brief senior ministers at a Saturday morning meeting of the Cabinet at No 10.

Mr Cameron said the deal would make the UK "stronger, safer and better off" as he set out the "once in a generation moment to shape the destiny of our country" at the referendum.

"Turning our back on the EU is no solution at all," he said.

"And we should be suspicious of those who claim that leaving Europe is some automatic fast track to some land of milk and honey.

"We all need to step back and consider carefully what is best for Britain, what is best for our future.

"Whatever the British people decide, I will make work to the best of my abilities.

"But let me tell you what I believe: I do not love Brussels; I love Britain.

"And my job, the job of the British Prime Minister, is doing all in my power to protect Britain's interests.

"So when it comes to Europe mine is a hard-headed assessment of what is in Britain's interest."

The changes fulfilled the reform objectives in the Conservatives' general election manifesto and were "legally binding" and irreversible without the agreement of all EU member states including the UK, he said.

He said he was "disappointed but not surprised" that close ally, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, would be among those campaigning in favour of Brexit.

"He (Mr Gove) has wanted to get Britain to pull out of the European Union for about 30 years," Mr Cameron said.

"Of course, I'm disappointed that we're not going to be on the same side as we have this vital argument about our country's future - I'm disappointed but I'm not surprised."

The new deal provides for a seven-year emergency brake on in-work benefits for EU migrant workers, as well as cuts in child benefit for their children living overseas - applicable immediately for new arrivals and from 2020 for the 34,000 existing claimants.

It also says that EU treaties will be amended to state explicitly that references to the requirement to seek ever-closer union "do not apply to the United Kingdom".

A jubilant Mr Cameron tweeted from the room where round-table discussions took place: "I have negotiated a deal to give the UK special status in the EU. I will be recommending it to Cabinet tomorrow."

The Cabinet meeting will be the first to be held on a Saturday since the Falklands War, and was demanded by Eurosceptic ministers who did not want the Prime Minister to have free rein to trumpet the merits of the deal all weekend while they remained gagged.

Mr Cameron has previously promised to suspend the principle of collective responsibility after the meeting, giving a green light to Eurosceptic ministers like Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling to go out and campaign for Britain to leave Europe without having to quit their jobs.

Waverers like London mayor Boris Johnson will now face tremendous pressure to spell out where they stand.

Leaked copies of the deal indicated that a compromise deal will allow existing claimants to carry on receiving child benefit in full for offspring living overseas until 2020, but that all member states will then be able to pay them at the rate of their home country.

This rate - usually lower than that paid to British parents - will be applicable immediately to all new migrants with children living abroad after the agreement comes into force.

The agreement falls well short of the outright ban on sending child benefit abroad initially demanded by Mr Cameron, and marks a compromise solution with eastern European states who had insisted that existing claimants should continue to receive the full payment until their sons and daughters reach adulthood - something rejected as "not acceptable" by the Prime Minister.

A lengthy section making clear that the phrase "ever closer union" in EU treaties is not "in legal terms an equivalent to political integration" was struck out, in an apparent response to Belgian sensitivities.

But the new text makes clear that EU treaties will be amended to state explicitly that references to ever closer union "do not apply to the United Kingdom".

An "emergency brake" on in-work welfare payments for migrant workers will be made available for seven years - with no option for extensions - in cases where member states are facing excessive strain from new arrivals.

The seven year period is shorter than the 13 years put forward by Mr Cameron in negotiations, but considerably longer than eastern European nations had argued for.

The deal came after behind-the-scenes talks which stretched through Thursday night and most of Friday, as Mr Cameron and European Council president Donald Tusk struggled to keep Britain's renegotiation on track.

The 28 leaders had initially been due to gather early in the morning for an "English breakfast" meeting to approve a package of reforms to the UK's membership, but breakfast became brunch, lunch, high tea and then dinner as opponents of the deal dug in their heels.

The delays forced Mr Cameron to scrap plans to summon ministers for a Cabinet meeting on Friday evening.

Mr Cameron had faced concerns from eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia over his call for an "emergency brake" on in-work benefits for migrant EU workers to extend for as long as 13 years.

And the same nations put up stiff resistance to the UK's demand to impose cuts in child benefits for offspring living abroad on 34,000 existing claimants as well as future migrants.

Meanwhile, France and Austria voiced anxiety that the protections for non-euro states sought by Mr Cameron might effectively grant special status to the City of London and allow Britain to hobble future deepening of the eurozone.

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