What happened overnight at the Brexit talks?

Full discussions between the leaders are due to resume within hours

David Cameron speaks to journalists as he arrives for a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

David Cameron speaks to journalists as he arrives for a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg


Talks in Brussels on the future of the UK within the EU continued throughout Thursday night into Friday, with British prime minister David Cameron leaving a bilateral meeting at 5.30am CET (4.30am GMT) – giving no word on the progress of the discussions.

Who met with whom?

European Council president – and key broker – Donald Tusk, along with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker held late-night bilateral talks with several leaders crucial to the UK/EU deal:

- UK prime minister David Cameron (who went in first, and then again after the others had said their piece)

- French president François Hollande

- Czech PM Bohuslav Sobotka

- Belgian PM Charles Michel.

A proposal, drawn up by the Belgians and supported by the French, seeks to impose a condition that Britain could not try to renegotiate further its terms of membership if it were to vote to leave the EU.

What David Cameron said

Post-bilateral talks, nothing … yet.

What Donald Tusk said

In a brief press conference in the early hours of Friday, before he headed into bilateral talks with Mr Cameron, Mr Tusk told reporters:

“We have made some progress but a lot still remains to be done.”

What the other leaders said

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi said there had been:

“some timid steps forward on migration, some steps back on a UK deal …

I’m always confident, but a bit less optimistic than when I arrived.”

Finnish PM Juha Sipilä suggested an agreement would be struck by Friday:

“The European Council debate on migration is coming to an end. Then UK negotiations continue. The project should be ready by morning.”

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy said:

“I think it is going well. I hope that tomorrow [FRIDAY]we will have a deal.”

But Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte raised the possibility of talks on a UK deal running into Saturday and Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned:

“It might take longer than they think.”

Support for Cameron came from German chancellor Angela Merkel, who said:

“The agreement’s not easy to take for many but good will is there. We are ready to compromise because advantages are higher than disadvantages when there is Brexit. ”

But Merkel did add that discussions on Europe’s migration crisis were the “priority” for the summit:

“The important statement for me today is that we have not only reaffirmed the EU-Turkey action plan, but we have said it is our priority.”

What are the sticking points?

Four key questions need to be thrashed out:

The emergency brake

How long could Britain impose the emergency brake to restrict in-work benefits for EU migrants in the UK? This has been complicated by questions over whether other member countries might want to adopt the scheme.

Curbs on benefits

There is disagreement – particularly from Poland – over UK efforts to restrict child benefit paid to EU workers within the UK whose children live in their home country. Also a bone of contention is whether any curbs should be applied retrospectively to EU migrants already in the UK.

‘Ever-closer union’

Britain wants a treaty change to formalise the UK’s exemption from the EU’s founding declaration to forge an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe. Some countries think the formal opt-out should be sufficient.

Financial regulation

The UK seeks a further treaty change to underpin protections for non-eurozone members in the single market – opposed by France, which is said to see the move as a restriction on the eurozone and “special protection” for the City of London.

What happens next?

Full discussions between the leaders are due to resume within hours, although earlier spin-off talks are mooted to include a meeting between Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s François Hollande and Greece’s Alexis Tsipras.

Guardian news service