It's fair to say that Mrs Merkel was more accommodating than the briefing had suggested. She accepts the need for a new treaty and changes. She specifically said free movement could be looked at, to deal with benefit tourism. But as the dire/normal (strike out as your outlook dictates) immigration numbers showed yesterday, benefit tourism is not the issue: our fellow European citizens are making use of their right under EU law (to which we are party) to travel to the UK to find work. And you can bet your leiderhosen that not just Mrs Merkel, but none of the other EU member states, will countenance a watering down of that principle.
What happens now? Should Mr Cameron adjust his sights to manage expectations on his own side? Or should he bet large, demand loads and hope for the best after 2015? We should keep reminding ourselves that any renegotiation, and subsequent referendum, will only happen if Dave is returned with a majority. It could be said that everything he says now, every pose he adopts, has the general election in mind. Tough talk, he hopes, will bolster him against Ukip and those on his own side who will never be satisfied with whatever deal he strikes. I wonder if one day we will look back at today as a great example of delusion built on optimism. The delusion is that the EU will give Mr Cameron a deal that remotely satisfies his backbench fans; the optimism is that the Tories will win next year and put him in a position to negotiate. Still, we can't fault Mr Cameron for trying. He pulled out all the stops yesterday short of, well, you know, and it seems to be delivering results. This is a long slog and it would be wrong to make bets on the outcome now.
HEAT ON CAMERON AND MAY AFTER IMMIGRATION RISE
The fallout to yesterday's immigration statistics - showing a 58,000 net rise in net migration to 212,000 - plays out in today's papers. Dave's target to get net migration down towards "tens of thousands" has never seemed further off - but that's a "good thing", Vince Cable provocatively says on the front page of the Mail. The Business Secretary, in words designed to antagonise Dave, says that "those figures are good news because the reason net immigration is going up is because fewer British people are emigrating and surely that’s a good thing – people are getting jobs here." While none of the headlines are good for the PM - "200,000 more flood into UK", says The Sun - the Guardian focuses on the Home Secretary: "May's target in tatters after surprise jump in migration to Britain from EU". It even warns that "If the upward trend continues she may leave office with a higher net migration figure than the 244,000 estimated when she became home secretary in 2010." That would be great news for Ukip - but terrible for the Home Secretary's chances of cultivating enough support in the party to be a viable contender to replace Dave as leader.
TORIES: DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO STOP MILIBAND
A YouGov poll in The Times today suggests mixed feelings for the suggestion that David Cameron would prefer a minority government to another coalition deal. Tory voters narrowly prefer a minority government to a second coalition deal - but 87% of Tories would prefer another coalition to the prospect of Ed Miliband becoming PM. And the electorate seems sick of coalition: only 17% say either a Lib-Lab or Con-Lib coalition would be their preferred choice after the next election.
NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY RECALLED
The Northern Ireland Assembly is today recalled for an emergency meeting on the handling of on-the-run Republican suspects, though Peter Robinson has said that he welcomes the inquiry into the secret letters and has withdrawn his threat to resign as First Minister. In The Times, Jonathan Powell writes that "John Downey’s release has nothing to do with an amnesty or a secret deal and everything to do with a cock-up" and says that "it was no secret" that the Labour Government had dealt with paramilitary suspects as parts of negotiations with Sinn Féin. Speaking on Today, Theresa Villiers said that "Everyone who's received a letter should be well aware that they do not confer immunity from prosecution." WHAT DOES HARMAN DO NEXT?
There's trouble simmering for Labour this morning. The Sun's front page - "Labour chiefs: It's OK to have sex with 10-year-olds" - is devoted to exposing that Patricia Hewitt and Jack Dromey were members of an NCCL committee advocating transforming under-age sex laws. Miss Hewitt has apologised, saying that the NCCL was "naive and wrong" to affiliate with the Paedophile Information Exchange and sayd that "I take responsibility for the mistakes we made." The question now is: does Harriet Harman do the same?
McCLUSKEY'S WARNING TO LABOURFurther trouble for Labour comes with Len McCluskey warning that "there are some people internally in the Labour party that are beginning to panic" because of Unite's decision to consider a £1.5m cut in its annual affiliation fees. Labour's special conference will meet tomorrow to agree reforms in the party's relationship with the unions, with insiders adamant that this will be a far more significant reform than Clause 4.
FARAGE AIMING SKY HIGH
It's Ukip Spring Conference time (they're off to Torquay), but Nigel Farage isn't trying to dampen expectations: he describes the European and local elections in May as "the moment we have been waiting for" and will be "the biggest political shock in modern British history". As I've noted before, Mr Farage risks creating a rod for his own back. If Ukip fail to come top then, no matter how many votes they get, it will be regarded as a failure. In the Guardian, Mr Farage says that "We're whistling in the wind if we think we can implement a Eurosceptic agenda from within the European parliament." Meanwhile Anna Soubry claims that she "wobbled" the Ukip leader when she took him on in Question Time a few months ago - and admits that "In my patch if people vote UKIP, I ain’t coming back here because they will let the Labour guy in."
IDS LAYS INTO 'CRIMINAL' OSBORNE
The Osborne-IDS row continues. Allies of Mr Duncan Smith describe reports of Mr Osborne "declaring victory" in the skirmish over child poverty as "pretty criminal". They add that the battle "was about personalities rather than policies." If Mr Cameron wins a second term, is there any way that Mr Osborne and Mr Duncan Smith could work together for another five years?BURNHAM WANTS LABOUR TO REGAIN ITS NORTHEN SOUL
In an interview with Total Politics, Andy Burnham calls on Labour to regain its Northern Soul: "There is a sense to a lot of people that the kind of ‘London set’ slightly pushes people with Northern voices out a little bit. That’s probably always been the way, but it’s still a bit of a shame. If you look at the House of Lords, oh God, it’s so London-dominated, it’s unbelievable. I think it’s quite frightening to be honest. It’s still quite rare isn’t it to hear Northern accents on frontbenches?" Mr Burnham is trying to paint himself as the true representative of Labour's working-class history - and, perhaps, reminding his party of the pitfalls of parachuting spads into safe seats that they have no connection with.
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter
TWEETS AND TWITS
This # will never take off:
@GregMulholland1: A proper #frost this morning! Gloves & hats required!
In the TelegraphFraser Nelson - Free schools will stumble – the test is how well they recover
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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announcement on dementia care.
Ukip spring conference, Torquay. Nigel Farage speaks at 12pm.