Tusk warns Brexit referendum 'more unpredictable' than ever

 20 Jan 2016 - 0:00

Tusk warns Brexit referendum 'more unpredictable' than ever


Strasbourg, France: EU president Donald Tusk warned Tuesday that a 'Brexit' referendum "is more unpredictable than ever" and that an EU reform deal to persuade Britons to stay in the bloc would be difficult.

Tusk will chair a February leaders summit in Brussels to discuss British Prime Minister David Cameron's demands for EU reforms which he deems essential to persuade Britons to vote to stay within the 28-nation bloc.

The referendum is due by 2017, but British officials say it could be as early as this summer.

"As of today, the result of the referendum is more unpredictable than ever before," Tusk told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

"Time is of the essence and this is why I will work hard to strike the deal already in February. It will not be easy but it is still possible," he said.

Tusk recalled that EU leaders meeting at a summit in Brussels in December signalled readiness to compromise despite concerns on "specific issues."

Cameron's most controversial proposal is a four-year ban on top-up benefits for EU migrants working in Britain, which critics say is discriminatory and threatens freedom of movement in the EU.

Cameron also wants the EU to give Britain safeguards against more political integration, to protect countries that do not use the euro currency and to boost economic competitiveness.

"Hard work on all these baskets is progressing and, as we speak, my people are working with the Commission to bring us closer to the solution," Tusk said, referring to the European Commission, the EU executive.

He said he would table "a concrete proposal" to all the EU leaders on the British demands.

"Let me stress again from the very beginning of these negotiations I have been very clear there will be no compromise on fundamental values like non-discrimination and free movement," Tusk said.

"At the same time I will do everything in my power to find a satisfactory solution, also for the British side," Tusk added.