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 1333.

    "Cofi in Exile
    We should have stuck to the principle of not allowing accession until the candidate country's economy was approaching par"

    In that case Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and (in the early 1970s) Britain would never have been accepted. Some might argue any and all of those would have been a good thing. We had one of the lower GDP/capita in 1970, one of the highest now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1332.

    I have few concerns about people wanting to visit and work in the Uk provided they adhere to all the rules and laws. If they need to use our welfare system the only way they can access this is by registering their nationality and each month we charge the relevant country they have come from the bill. They can do likewise to Brits abroad as a contra if they like. The same can be applied to the NHS

  • rate this

    Comment number 1331.

    15 mins ago I ago for cold hard factual benefits of mass immigration.

    15 minutes later... no responses. Not one. Not even one lame attempt at justification.

    I guess when you get down to it the tree hugging lefty liberals here are all talk and no trousers. Or at least nothing between the ears with which to formulate a cogent argument other than to cry into their soy lattes that we're all nazi's

  • rate this

    Comment number 1330.

    People from other european countries are not different races, there are only 3 true races. We are all mixes of those. So it is not racial hatred to want to stop the unmitigated disaster of uncontrolled immigration. I myself experience a lot of discrimination in the country I work in (I am english in USA). But I do not agree with the flood of migrants into UK, the country is just not big enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1329.

    According the ONS 55% of all taxpayers, mostly the low paid (which includes many eastern Europeans) are net recipients from the state. So we not only have 1 person claiming benefits as an eastern European is doing the job but the eastern European is actually receiving more from the state than they pay in i.e. worst of both worlds. ps in Germany you have to work a year

  • rate this

    Comment number 1328.

    Lets keep this simple.

    If I have 3 dinners and 3 people. Everyone eats and is full.

    If I have 3 dinners and 6 people. Everyone gets half, and still a bit hungry.

    If I have 3 dinners and 20 people, people get little and are still hungry.

    If i have 3 dinners and 100 people, everyone starves.

    Apply this to any infrastructure.

    Sadly we cannot feed the world, otherwise we would be doing it

  • rate this

    Comment number 1327.

    Listen, lefties, why don't you elect to pay tax based on your political leanings? You could pay, say, 60% of earnings, and those on the right could pay, say 15%, and everyone would be happy; all in all, your extra tax could pay for all the nicey-nicey stuff you preach about. No? Oh, okay, it's only other people's money you like spending. Right, got it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1326.

    Amazed at the anger on here, all caused by self serving poltical clowns you voted for and will vote for again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1325.

    I can't believe that anyone here can possible disagree with the principle that we shouldn't allow foreign migrants to just turn up in the UK and immediately have access to free housing, free healthcare and free benefits ? The UK is broke !! How can that make sense ? It has nothing to do with Bankers, or Europe, or Racism it's just simple economics surely ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1324.


    If you come here and do not have a job and do not contribute to the system, you cannot claim benifit ! FACT!

    Not fact but RUBBISH
    They claim to be self employed and are entitled to immediate benefit payments.
    Absolutely false and untrue, totally obvious you know absolutely nothing about benefit rules or UK law. Stop reading the Daily Mail it tells lies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1323.

    Do the Brits fear change? Possibly. That of the 1/4 million poles who allegedly came over here (not to sponge benefits, but to work) how many remain? UK - it's ok but it aint the Garden of Eden. Most will come, work and go back. Engage them, you'll benefit from it. Don't fear or hate them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1322.

    always fighting the Tories - antifa

  • rate this

    Comment number 1321.

    I guess the next round debate at the EU parliament.

    The EU MP: the UK is becoming a "nasty country" !

    Nigel Farage: that is really hurt !


  • rate this

    Comment number 1320.

    The previous government voted for EU enlargement. Because of this, Romania and Bulgaria were given membership.
    This could have been avoided if Britain had voted against, as it required a unanimous vote.
    Blame Blair and his cronies, not Cameron, who has inherited this mess from the previous socialist left wing government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1319.

    There's no evdience to support claims of systemic benefit tourism. Its a myth. People come here to work. Whether too many come to work or not is a separate argument to whether there is systemic benefit tourism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1318.

    I don't want to see our Govt. being "Defiant" because that means they are not actually running the country - someone else is. That's why UKIP will be getting my vote. Time to end this EU nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1317.

    Fakir reallly!!, tell you what I will be voting out!! We will survive it's in our nature!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1316.

    Enough! Doesn't anyone in power have any idea of human nature. Are they so busy pushing their agendas, quotas and numbers they forget people's lives. If you put too many rats in a maze, they attack each other. The EU with its multiculturalism, political correctness and open borders will go down in history as the biggest 'snow job' ever. Stop it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1315.

    We should rename January 1st ''New People's Day'' !

    What a wonderful multicultural celebration we could have... we could have street parties where all of the different peoples of Britain could hang out out bunting and eat their native delicacies and play games and sing songs together and it'll be just the best day of the year!

    I will start a Twitter campaign I think


  • rate this

    Comment number 1314.

    All of this non-issue is a distraction to deflect interest and attention away from the crimes being committed by the Tories against the British Working Class.


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