David Cameron’s preferred option of an early referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU edged further away after he failed to broker a deal with the president of the European council, Donald Tusk.
The two men had hoped to finalise a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Brussels over dinner at Downing Street so that it could be put to other EU leaders on Monday ahead of a crucial summit in less than three weeks.
An early deal would allow Cameron to call a referendum on the UK’s EU membership before the summer.
But a Downing Street source said that none of the four key areas under negotiation have been agreed. Instead, further negotiations will be left to diplomats or “sherpas” in Brussels on Monday, in the hope that a deal will be put to EU member states on Tuesday.
The No 10 source said that progress had been made, and claimed that Tusk and his team tabled a draft text that makes clear that the UK’s current circumstances meet the criteria for triggering a proposed “emergency brake” on welfare payments to EU migrants.