Positive Irish response for Cameron’s EU reform demands

Seeking to restrict EU migrants’ rights to work-linked benefits seen as problematic

David Cameron speaks on European Union reform ahead of membership vote. The UK prime minister says his demands for reform are not "Mission Impossible" but rather the price EU leaders must pay if he is to keep Britain in the bloc. Video: Reuters

 

Demands made by British prime minister David Cameron on renegotiating his country’s membership of the European Union have been given a broadly positive response in Irish Government circles.

In a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk on Tuesday, Mr Cameron set out his objectives for a new relationship with the EU ahead of a referendum on British membership next year.

With formal negotiations due to start next week, Irish Government sources welcomed the fact Mr Cameron has put forward a number of concrete solutions for dealing with British concerns, including protocols modelled on those devised for Ireland and Denmark in the past.

The four key areas identified by Mr Cameron were the protection of the single market, boosting competitiveness, exempting Britain from even closer union, and restricting the rights of EU migrants to work-related benefits such as tax credits.

Agreement

Mr Cameron told Mr Tusk he hoped and believed agreement could be reached on the four matters. “If we can, I am ready to campaign with all my heart and soul to keep Britain inside a reformed European Union that continues to enhance the prosperity and security of all its member states,” he wrote.

One Government source said the first three demands would pose no real problems, but the fourth could be very difficult.

He noted, however, that Mr Cameron had referred to restricting the right to in-work benefits which was more feasible than welfare restrictions.

“Cameron’s letter is aimed at a domestic audience, but EU partners understand that he needs to do that. We will do everything we can to help him get a deal,” said the source.

The European Commission immediately identified limiting welfare payments to EU migrants as “highly problematic”, a view echoed by European Parliament president Martin Schultz.

The challenge facing Mr Cameron in winning the referendum became clear after his speech, with Conservative Eurosceptics dismissing his demands as feeble.

Backbench Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg described them as “pretty thin gruel”.