Risk of EU breaking up is 'real', European Council President admits

The risk of the EU breaking up is “real” and negotiations of the UK’s future membership remain “very fragile”, the President of the European Council has admitted.

Speaking ahead of the crucial summit on 18 February in which David Cameron will try to successfully renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership, Donald Tusk warned that talks have reached a “critical moment”.

If Mr Cameron is able to secure the backing of other EU leaders at the summit in Brussels for his demands to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership.

If he clinches a deal, he will call an immediate Cabinet meeting on 19 February, after which Eurosceptic ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith would be free to join the “Brexit” campaign – sparking the beginning of the EU referendum battle in earnest

The potential timetable – leading to an in-out referendum in late June – emerged as David Cameron embarked on a last-minute flurry of diplomatic activity ahead of the summit.

Last night he held talks in Paris with President Francois Hollande and will meet key figures in the European Parliament on 16 February in an attempt to gain their backing.

Tory sources confirmed that the Cabinet would be called on 19 February in the event of a deal being struck the night before.

Mr Cameron hopes it will be finalised during a working dinner at the summit on late on 18 February, although sources in London and Brussels have stressed there are still several important sticking-points to be resolved. The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said: “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, also warned last night that negotiations over Britain’s demands had reached a “critical moment”. Speaking after talks with the Romanian and French presidents, he tweeted: “The risk of break-up is real because this process is indeed very fragile.”