Immigration: Cameron hits back at EU's Andor in 'nasty' row

David Cameron says the "nasty" comments by the EU's Laszlo Andor are "completely unacceptable"

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David Cameron has described comments by a European commissioner about the UK's immigration policies as "unacceptable".

Laszlo Andor suggested the UK was at risk of becoming a "nasty" country if it curbed benefits and sought to limit freedom of movement by EU nationals.

Speaking at an EU summit in Lithuania, the prime minister said he expected "better behaviour" and it was not Mr Andor's job to criticise UK policies.

He also suggested the UK had widespread backing across Europe for its stance.

The Hungarian Mr Andor was reacting to government plans to tighten up the eligibility rules on welfare claims for EU nationals moving to the UK, describing them as an "unfortunate overreaction".

In future, if Mr Cameron has his way, citizens from other EU countries would not be able to claim out-of-work benefits for the first three months and would not be able to extend claims beyond six months if they have no genuine prospect of work.

Workers would have to prove their earnings to qualify while access to housing benefit would also be curbed.

'Better behaviour'

Mr Cameron also said the EU needs to rethink its core principle of the freedom of movement across European borders, saying this should only apply to people genuinely seeking work and not welfare.

He has suggested income disparities across Europe have led to mass movements of people from east to west, which have not been good for migrants' home countries or the nations in which they settle.

Laszlo Andor has defended his comments about Britain being at risk of becoming a "nasty" country

Mr Andor, a former economist who is commissioner for employment and social affairs, said there was "hysteria" in the UK on the issue of immigration and the latest proposals "risked presenting the UK as a kind of nasty country in the European Union".

Mr Cameron, asked during his trip to Vilnius about Mr Andor's comments, said they were unjustified.

"I think it is completely unacceptable for Commissioner Andor to say what he said," he told journalists.

"Britain is one of the most open, generous, tolerant countries anywhere in the world, and to suggest otherwise is quite wrong.

"But what's important is that our generosity and tolerance shouldn't be abused.

"Commissioner Andor shouldn't say that, his salary is paid in part by British taxpayers, and I expect better behaviour in the future."

'Wonderful country'

The prime minister said he had the backing of other EU countries for measures to tighten access to benefits.

"People moving to countries for a job is one thing but I'm not in favour of people moving to be able to claim benefits," he added.

Start Quote

Some of these reforms could have been done long ago”

End Quote Cecilia Malmstrom EU Home Affairs Commisioner

"I've had strong support from other European countries who all face these similar pressures and want to put in place proper and sensible measures."

There are growing concerns in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria about the issue but the UK has been criticised in other quarters, the Bulgarian foreign minister saying its plans are "discriminatory".

Speaking on a visit to London, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said the UK was a "wonderful country" but there was little evidence of so-called "benefit tourism".

She suggested that some of the changes to benefit rules could have been done "long ago" and are "perfectly in compliance" with the UK's treaty obligations.

But she added: "Freedom of movement has been of gigantic benefit to the UK - for the people who come here to work and who have contributed to the British economy, and for the hundreds of thousands, millions of Brits who live abroad and who work or retire at the Costa Del Sol.

"And we should by no means limit this. This is very important to defend."

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Politics Live

    07:32: Your say

    A selection of comments from Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    Rather than what broadcasters or what political parties want regarding debates, what about what the electorate wants?

    The debates at the last election and the Scottish referendum debates were widely watched and helped reconnect the public with the political process. They took leaders out of their ivory towers and made them more accountable to the people they are supposed to lead.

    Cameron refusing to take part in debates shows his contempt for this process and a fear of public scrutiny. I really think the Tories have made a major error of judgement here, the electorate will not be gentle.

    Ged Roddam

    The prime minister has stated he only wants one debate. It is not the broadcasters who should pressurise otherwise. They need to respect his position on this, as do the other parties who are name calling.

    Broadcasters would not be pressurising the CEO of a large company on how to run their business...

    Sara Brewer

    Do you agree? Email is with your views.

    @rosschawkins Ross Hawkins, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Lib Dem view on debates is they'll do them even if not happy about format. Will broadcasters - as they've suggested - go ahead without PM?

    @PickardJE Jim Pickard, Financial Times

    tweets: Alastair Campbell is outraged by Cameron wriggling from TV debates. Reminded he blocked Blair from doing so in 1997 he tells #today: "True."

    07:22: One man debate? BBC Radio 4 Today

    Asked if Ed Miliband should offer to take part in a debate alone, Alastair Campbell says it's a "tactical judgement", but Mr Miliband should "probably" press ahead without David Cameron. It's the interest of both the Labour Party and the country as a whole that an Ed Miliband v David Cameron takes place, Mr Campbell adds.

    @Kevin_Maguire Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor

    tweets: TV election debates are important in principle. If we adopt a written constitution, put them in alongside secret ballots and spending caps

    07:15: Campbell on TV debates BBC Radio 4 Today

    Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, says David Cameron's decision to only take part in one TV debate is "democratically wrong and morally cowardly". He says Mr Cameron should be honest about why he doesn't want to take part - "he just doesn't want to do them", Mr Campbell says.

    07:11: One-on-one debate? Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

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    "If that were to happen, David Cameron would be pursued by a man in a chicken costume throughout the campaign, I'm certain of that", our correspondent adds.

    07:06: Telegraph on debates The Daily Telegraph

    The Telegraph has penned an editorial which says the televised discussions are good for democracy. The paper argues the debates would "inject some much-needed spontaneity and excitement into the stage-managed, safety-first election campaigning". The piece says broadcasters now need to work together to make sure "some sort of debate" does take place.

    Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    tweets: Labour say Ed Miliband will still take part in Ch4//Sky head to head debate without the PM

    @NickyMorgan01 Nicky Morgan, minister for women

    tweets: Looking forward to today's #CWIB2015. Bringing together ambitious business women for masterclasses and mentoring. #womensday

    06:55: 'Move Parliament to Manchester' The Guardian

    Earlier this week, we reported Commons Speaker John Bercow saying the Houses of Parliament may have to be "abandoned" within 20 years without extensive repair work. There have been a number of suggestions on possible alternatives. Today, Simon Jenkins writes in the Guardian that Parliament should be moved to Manchester, arguing it would be good for democracy.

    06:51: Broadcasters 'pressing ahead' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    "Talking to some of those involved last night, my impression at the moment, is the broadcasters are intent on toughing this one out... They do not think that one 90-minute debate involving eight parties in the next fortnight or so is acceptable. They do not think it is acceptable one party should have the power to veto what goes ahead. As things stand they are intent on pressing ahead with the debates as currently scheduled."

    06:42: Cameron's debate plans Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Our correspondent has been analysing last night's big debate news.

    The effect is to swing a huge wrecking ball in the direction of the broadcasters' plans for these TV debates, he says. It may demolish all hopes for a debate to be held, or may leave one "paltry" 90-minute debate later this month.

    The clear view of Downing Street is that this is the fault of broadcasters, who they accuse of coming forward with proposals without consultation, to a timetable that was never going to be acceptable, and of failing to get the parties to get together for meaningful negotiations, our correspondent says.

    06:39: TV debate reaction

    There is plenty of reaction around to Downing Street's one-debate proposal. Including this, which leaves little doubt as to where the Huffington Post stands on the issue.

    06:30: Scotland Ashcroft poll

    In other political news you may have missed from last night, a poll suggested the SNP could win Gordon Brown's seat - Kircaldy and Cowdenbeath - at the election in May. The poll by Lord Ashcroft also suggested Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader, could also lose his seat to the nationalists. It's the latest polling which suggests the SNP could make significant gains on 7 May.

    06:25: The papers
    Daily Telegraph front page - 05/03/15

    Downing Street's announcement that the prime minister will only take part in one TV debate ahead of the election features in several papers, with The Daily Telegraph describing it as an "ultimatum" to broadcasters. The BBC's Alex Kleiderman has the full round-up of the nationals here.

    06:20: Child benefit changes? BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30

    The BBC has learned the Conservatives are considering limiting child benefit to three children. As Newsnight reported last night, the Treasury has "softened" to the idea, which could save an estimated £300m a year.

    06:15: Debate bombshell

    In case you missed it, there was a significant development last night on the TV leaders debates, after Downing Street wrote to broadcasters to make a "final offer" of only one debate with seven, possibly eight, leaders. Other parties criticised the PM, accusing him of "acting like a chicken" and the broadcasters have said they will respond to the proposal in due course. Expect more reaction on this story this morning.

    06:10: Good morning

    Hello and welcome to a fresh Thursday's political coverage. Nick Eardley and Matthew Davis will bring you all the action, reaction and analysis in text and you'll be able to watch and listen to all the main BBC political programmes, from Today and Breakfast through to Newsnight and Today in Parliament. Don't forget you can get in touch by emailing or via social media @bbcpolitics. Here's how Wednesday unfolded.



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