E.U. Summit

Brexit Deal Hangs on Knife-Edge

epa05168728 Great Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) chats with German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) during the extraordinary two days EU summit at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 18 February 2016. EU leaders were set Thursday to try to thrash out an agreement with Britain on reforms, amid hopes that they can seal a deal which will convince the country to stay in their bloc. Fears are rife that Britons might vote to leave the European Union in a referendum that Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold by the end of 2017, but that is widely expected this year already. The turmoil over Brexit - the buzzword for Britain's possible departure from the EU after more than 40 years of half-hearted membership - comes at a time when the bloc is already struggling with a severe migration crisis and enduring economic woes. EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
David Cameron and Angela Merkel.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The European Union is facing multiple strains including the possibility of a Brexit and the dissolution of the Schengen Agreement over the refugee crisis.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The E.U. summit went into its second day with no deal done on the issue of Brexit.
    • British Prime Minister David Cameron needs a convincing deal to back a “yes” vote in a forthcoming referendum on E.U. membership.
    • The European Union will hold a migration summit in March with Turkey.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Europe’s tradition of make-or-break late-night Brussels summits continues.

At their latest round that began Thursday, European Union leaders are facing the twin challenges of keeping Great Britain in the fold, while also maintaining the continent’s borderless Schengen zone in the face of the massive influx of refugees.

After hours of fraught talks on both issues, most of the 28 weary leaders only got to bed on the cusp of dawn on Friday morning. Hopes of a conclusive deal over an “English Breakfast” on Friday quickly became hopes of a deal over brunch, then lunch, and well beyond.

And while the absence of Turkey meant that talks on the refugee crisis were never going to be conclusive, the Brexit drama is being depicted as a “now or never” moment.

Playing as much to the home crowd as his E.U. partners, the British prime minister, David Cameron, had arrived in Brussels on Thursday saying he was “battling for Britain.”

Mr. Cameron, who has promised to hold a referendum on his country’s E.U. membership by the end of 2017, is looking to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the bloc before he can recommend a “yes” vote.

On Friday morning he arrived back at the negotiating table determined to secure some movement. “I was here until 5 o’clock working through this and we’ve made some progress, but there’s still no deal and as I’ve said I’ll do a deal if we get what Britain needs,” the British leader said. “So we are going to get back in there, we are going to do some more work, and I’ll do what I can.”

Yet a deal is far from done, with many member states objecting to some of Britain’s key demands.

“I’m always confident but a bit less optimistic than when I arrived,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Thursday night.

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