British Prime Minister David Cameron was locked early Friday in intense talks with his fellow European Union leaders on a deal that could set the tone for what is expected to be a bruising campaign to decide whether the U.K. jettisons the 28-member bloc.
Meeting in Brussels, the leaders negotiated late into Thursday night – and then well into Friday morning – as Cameron sought concessions that would help him make the case back home for his country’s continued membership.
“I’ll be battling for Britain. If we can get a good deal, I’ll take that deal. But I will not take a deal that doesn’t meet what we need,” Cameron told reporters before the talks kicked off.
Much later in the evening, officials said that substantial gaps would need to be bridged before the two sides could reach agreement. Plans to seal the deal over an English breakfast on Friday morning were pushed back to brunch, and some suggested the talks could drag into the weekend.
But even as the leaders haggled, analysts said the prime minister would inevitably need to settle for an agreement that falls well short of his original intention to fundamentally renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the E.U.
“What he will get is not revolutionary,” said Janis Emmanouilidis, director of studies at the Brussels-based European Policy Center. “This won’t change Europe.”
A British exit, however, very much would.
The country has long been an ambivalent E.U. member, but it remains one of the bloc’s cornerstones. If the country votes to leave in a referendum expected in June, it could trigger a broader European unraveling at a time when continental unity is being strained by a refugee crisis, renewed Russian aggression, terrorist attacks and rising nationalism.
If Britain voted to leave, Emmanouilidis said, it would probably embolden “anti-E.U. voices in other member states saying there is a way out.”
European leaders appeared mindful of that risk as they gathered Thursday, suggesting they intended to give Cameron enough of what he wants to enable him to declare victory by the time the summit ends Friday. (Courtesy Washington Post)