David Cameron has received an early boost for his EU renegotiation drive after Home Secretary Theresa May said proposals unveiled in Brussels were "a basis for a deal".
Mrs May - who had been tipped as a possible leader of the "out" campaign - said that more work needed to be done on the plan set out by European Council president Donald Tusk.
But she said that the proposals did address key UK concerns about the "abuse" of EU free movement rules and the use of European law to block the deportation of foreign criminals.
Although she stopped short of firmly endorsing the proposed deal, her comments will come as a relief to Mr Cameron amid concerns among supporters of his renegotiation drive that she could provide a dangerous focal point for the anti-EU lobby.
At the same time they are likely to disappoint campaigners for Britain to leave the EU who had hoped that Mrs May - who had been thought to be sceptical about Mr Cameron's efforts - could provide them with a powerful figurehead.
In a statement, Mrs May said: "EU free movement rules have been abused for too long and EU law has stopped us deporting dangerous foreign criminals.
"That is plainly wrong and it is encouraging that the commission has agreed with the UK that we should take action to address these two issues.
"So we have made progress and negotiations continue ahead of the February council. As the Prime Minister has said, more work needs to be done, but this is a basis for a deal."