UK Politics

EU referendum: PM 'to continue with benefit demands'

David Cameron in Warsaw on 10 December Image copyright AP

Downing Street has insisted that David Cameron will pursue demands for a curb on in-work benefits for EU migrants in the UK.

Several reports suggested the prime minister would back down on the demand for a four-year wait for such benefits.

They cited government sources suggesting he may be flexible on the issue in EU talks on Thursday.

But the proposal for a four-year wait will be put forward this week, a Downing Street spokesman said.

Mr Cameron is pushing for EU reforms ahead of the UK's in-out referendum, which he has promised will take place before the end of 2017.

'Under pressure'

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said: "David Cameron has faced resistance from other EU leaders over his proposal to make migrants wait for four years before being eligible for in-work benefits such as tax credits.

"So government officials, over this weekend, briefed several newspapers that the prime minister would signal his willingness at this week's EU summit to accept alternative proposals to tackle public concerns over immigration.

"But the prime minister has been under pressure from his work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to agree benefit restrictions."

Newspapers including the Independent on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times reported the claim that Mr Cameron was set to "abandon" the demand.

Former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who's leading the party's campaign to keep Britain in Europe, said the country had to be at the heart of efforts to resolve the refugee crisis, rather than being "over by the exit door, whingeing and moaning".

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show there was more Britain could do domestically on the issue of welfare benefits, rather than needing reform in Europe to deal with the issue.

"Other European countries have a system where you contribute, so there is a contributory system to benefits," he said.

"That was the original idea of the Labour government in 1945, but it's been diminished, so we could return to that and that means our domestic situation [too, so] there's no discrimination."

Conservative former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, a member of the Vote Leave campaign, described the idea of limiting migrants' benefits as a "sideshow" that would not reduce the flow of immigration from the EU into Britain.

"We've got to manage our own immigration policy," he told Sky's Murnaghan programme.

"We need to make our own laws in our own parliament - and these demands are trivial," he said.

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A government source told the Press Association: "The prime minister is set to reiterate the point he made in his letter and speech last month - that what matters most is to fix the problems not the precise form of the arrangements.

"On welfare, he will aim to unlock the political will necessary to find a solution, effectively giving the green light to officials to work up a solution that would both deliver on the prime minister's objective of better controlling migration from the EU while also being acceptable to all."

Mr Cameron is expected to emphasise that "levels of migration from the EU to the UK are a major concern for the British people" when he speaks at the European Council summit this week.

'Simply not true'

He has previously conceded that no deal will be reached at the summit, with the intention to reach agreement over a package of reforms in February.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "A number of Sunday papers have claimed the prime minister is backing away from the four-year migrant benefit proposal.

"One even goes as far as to claim he will be using this week's European Council to drop it - this is simply not true.

"As the PM said in his Chatham House speech several weeks ago: 'I am open to different ways of dealing with this issue. But we do need to secure arrangements that deliver on the objective set out in the Conservative Party manifesto to control migration from the European Union'."

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