David Cameron defiant over tougher EU benefit plans


Prime Minister David Cameron: "It is about sending out a signal"

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David Cameron has defended plans to toughen welfare rules for EU migrants, saying he was sending a "clear message" to people that the UK was not a "soft touch" for claiming benefits.

He said he shared public concerns about the end of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians next month.

Labour says he should have acted sooner and a European commissioner warned the UK risked being seen as "nasty".

But the prime minister said: "British people expect fairness."

"That is what this is about," he told BBC political editor Nick Robinson. "It is about fair treatment for people who work hard and do the right thing."

Mr Cameron has announced measures including:

  • New migrants not getting out-of-work benefits for the first three months
  • Payments being stopped after six months unless the claimant has a "genuine" chance of a job
  • New migrants not being able to claim housing benefit immediately
  • Deportation of those caught begging or sleeping rough, with no return within a year
  • Quadrupling fines for employers not paying the minimum wage

Mr Cameron questioned the principle of free movement of people across the EU, saying this right could not be "unqualified".

"Yes, of course, there is a right to take up a specific position if you want to work but there should not be a freedom of movement to claim," he added.

Bulgarian Ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov: "Politicians and media are whipping up a campaign to manipulate public opinion"

He told the BBC controls were "not just aimed at Romanians and Bulgarians" but would apply to "anyone in other EU countries thinking of coming to Britain because it is easier to claim benefits".

"I think it is very important to send out a clear message that this is not the case."

Mr Cameron suggested a future Conservative government, as part of its pledge to renegotiate EU membership, could seek more control over migration policy.

Working with like-minded EU governments, he said, it would look at allowing member states to halt arrivals if numbers exceeded a set level.

He also suggested freedom of movement should only be fully allowed if the average income of a country's people was not too far below the EU average.

Graphic: MIgrant workers in the UK

Transitional controls limiting Bulgarian and Romanian workers' access to the UK labour market - in place since the two countries joined the EU in 2007 - will expire at the end of the year.

There have been warnings of an "influx" of low-skilled workers and calls to review migrants' access to the NHS and welfare.

European Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor described Mr Cameron's proposals as "an unfortunate over-reaction", adding that EU rules applied equally to all 28 member states and had been agreed to by the UK.

David Cameron says: "All of this we can legally do within the limits of the treaties." There is much that is unclear, however. Will there be new legislation? Will EU officials challenge these changes?

The prime minister has also promised to remove those who are begging or sleeping rough. Again it is unclear whether this would involve new legislation.

Then there is the long term. David Cameron wants to qualify the right to freely move and work. He is talking of withholding that right to new countries until their national income has reached a certain level. This is, at the moment, just an idea but it will be hugely controversial.

One of the attractions for countries in Eastern Europe and beyond is the ability to move within the EU's 28 countries to find work.

But there are concerns in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and elsewhere about so-called benefits tourism.

The UK intends to place this at the centre of its demands to reform the EU.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the British public had "not been told all the truth" and that there were existing EU safeguards to prevent "benefit tourism".

Mr Andor said: "We would need a more accurate presentation of the reality, not under pressure, not under hysteria, as sometimes happens in the UK. I would insist on presenting the truth, not false assumptions."

Immigration from Poland and other countries had helped the UK economy, he said, arguing that the prime minister's suggestions risked "presenting the UK as a kind of nasty country in the European Union".

And Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "If Britain wants to leave the single market, you should say so. But if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it, Mr Cameron."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he had spoken to Mr Cameron on Tuesday to remind him that free movement was a "fundamental" EU principle "that must be upheld".

He added: "There is clear evidence of its economic benefits but we are also aware of the challenges that this can also bring, particularly for local communities and services and EU rules already include measures to prevent abuse."

However, a Downing Street spokesman insisted the changes would happen "as quickly as possible", adding: "The prime minister is focused on ensuring we have the right rules."

Start Quote

As you walk through the old streets, you hear foreign voices - mothers pushing their children to nursery, farm-workers heading home after a day in the fields - and this rapid cultural change has made the town feel uneasy.”

End Quote
'Still far too generous'

The Liberal Democrats said the proposed "sensible" changes would "restore confidence" in the immigration system and "ensure that the right to work does not automatically mean the right to claim".

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the prime minister was "playing catch-up" and copying a Labour idea.

During Commons exchanges with Home Secretary Theresa May, she said many of the measures would not be in place in time for the change in rules for Bulgarians and Romanians.

Many Conservative MPs urged Mrs May to defy the EU and extend the transitional controls on Bulgarians and Romanians, but she replied the UK would not go outside the law.

When will new measures come in?

  • 1 January, 2014: Six month limit on claiming out-of-work benefits unless there's a "genuine chance of getting a job"
  • 1 January, 2014: Deportation and 12 month bar on returns for homeless/beggars
  • 1 January, 2014: Toughening of the habitual residency test (to show someone qualifies for UK benefits)
  • Later - because secondary legislation needed: Three month delay on claiming out-of-work benefits
  • Later - because primary legislation needed: New penalties for non-payment of minimum wage
  • Unknown - Ban on housing benefit, and minimum income threshold

Downing Street says the rules allowing deportation of homeless people and six-month limit on getting jobless benefits would be in force from 1 January, as well as the tougher habitual residence test (which determines general eligibility to many UK benefits).

The three-month delay on claiming out-of-work benefits will take longer to implement because it requires legislation, while it is not yet known when, and for how long, EU migrants would not be able to claim housing benefits.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the UK was "still being far too generous", adding: "Under his proposal, somebody can come here on 1 January from Romania and within 12 weeks be entitled to unemployment benefit."

MigrationWatch UK has said it expects 50,000 people to come from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK in each of the next five years but the Bulgarian ambassador has said he believes the figure will be much lower - predicting levels of about 8,000.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    And what Cameron didn't mention - out on your ear if you break the law or reclaim the jail costs from the country of origin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    who cares what the most left wing of the commisars has to say about the UK ? No benefits for at least 2 continuous years of employment .

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Oh no! What are we to do? The EU thinks were being nasty. Wont somebody think of the children?

    This coming from an EU that's ruined Greece, Portugal and Irelands economy.....and WE'RE the nasty ones?????

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Thank God for UKIP who have made discussion on immigration a possibility. It's not racist to discuss if we are overcrowded and it's not unrealistic to refer to previous experience of immigration over recent years. The sooner we leave the EU the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    113 MettalicaHoop

    "especially the Roma."

    So, you are a racist?? Doubtless you suit the Nasty Party very well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    It appears we could give the UK economy a large boost in two steps:

    1. Send all our unemployed to another EU country e.g. France. We then save a vast benefits bill. France shouldn't object because as the EU says, migration is good for their economy.

    2. Then migrate all those people back to the UK. We get another significant boost, because as the EU says, migration is good for the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Ours is a country of significant internal turmoil and struggling to maintain itself at the current population density. Yes, we should be fair and provide equal opportunity, but not when we can't afford it. We can't be expected to provide "the Best of British" to immigrants if we cant to naturals. We need to fix our own problems first. If that means looking "nasty" to the rest of the EU, so be it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    There is a genuine debate to be had about immigration, such as is discussed in the current edition of 'Prospect' magazine. Such a calm debate would more likely arrive at humane policies. The nasty proposals the Prime Minister has made, based on mendacious characterisations, like 'benefit tourism' contributes to a misanthropic public ethos. Housing can be solved by building more social housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Facts over hysteria? I can agree with that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    You have to admire Cameron's cunning. Immigration helps to suppress wages and make sure the workforce (indigenous and immigrant) is insecure, even desperate (known as a 'flexible labour market'). Meanwhile, removing benefits cuts govt costs.

    All the while, indigenous working class people are encouraged to blame foreign working class people for their woes, instead of looking up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    The UK is already nasty because this didn't come sooner!

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    8. Davey Trasker
    Who cares what the EU thinks[?]
    The EU is an Anglo Saxon (German, roughly speaking) plan that's more than a thousand years old. Next they'll be suggesting that anti-EU feeling makes us look short, inbred, quarrelsome and hirsute.

    We can occasionally resist their will but not the undercurrent of history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I sympathise with alot of the commentators here. It must be difficult to live in an area inundated with foriegners who refuse to learn the language and remain culturally apart.
    If you don't believe me, go to Benidorm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Looking at the graph I think we should be a bit more "nasty" and create 700,000 jobs for our own workers

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    If we do leave the EU are you telling me a Euro business will stop trading with the UK and lose out on profit? I dont think so it's a scare tactic by Cameron. If we move from the EU we dont have to go through an OJEU tender anymore and can keep work in the UK which means we will have work, prices will come down, we will rely more on our own products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Don't care if this is politically motivated or not. It is just plain absurd to pay benefits to people coming to this country and to say this is 'nasty' is ridiculous. How many EU countries would allow me to emigrate to without a job and then give me a house along with benefits? Unfortunately comments like this from our EU 'partners' only serve to strengthen anti-EU feelings

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    It's about putting your own national interests first, ahead of the European Union. It'll obviously put some EU noses out of joint; as all they are concerned with is garnering more power to themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    There's actually very little room in the UK, we have no appreciable wild or wilderness areas. If you want to see a country that actually has space then go look at Australia, Canada or the US. Here there is almost nothing of the natural left, where it's not towns and cities it's villages and farms.

    Out transport infrastructure, especially in the South East, just can't take any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    Dear Mr Cameron,

    Don't wait until next year, start now by stopping the benefits of millionaires, bankers and companies like Amazon and Starbucks.

    Instead of deportation how about importation of the assets that they have taken offshore to avoid UK tax.

    And why not make CEOs and board members rather than their companies personally liable for the fines for non payment of the minimum wage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Facts don’t seem to be all that important. If you want to express an opinion on immigration, it appears what matters is who can shout the loudest, and who is best at riding the latest populist wave. Right wing extremism always rears its ugly head in times of need and unfortunately there are plenty willing to listen as one Adolf Hitler discovered. Nigel Farage has discovered too!!


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