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David Cameron seeks EU support for new migration curbs

November 28, 2014

David Cameron: “Those who want to claim tax credits and child benefits must live here and contribute to our country for a minimum of four years”

David Cameron has passionately urged other EU leaders to support his “reasonable” proposals for far-reaching curbs on welfare benefits for migrants.

Britain’s prime minister said lower EU migration would be a priority in future negotiations on the UK’s membership and he said would “rule nothing out” if he did not get the changes he wanted.

Under his plans, migrants will have to wait four years for certain benefits.

Brussels said the ideas were “part of the debate” to be “calmly considered”.

But UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the PM was “behind the curve” on immigration, while Labour said Mr Cameron had “no credibility” on the subject.

In a long-awaited speech in a factory in the West Midlands, Mr Cameron said he was confident he could change the basis of EU migration into the UK and therefore campaign for the UK to stay in the EU in a future referendum planned for 2017.

But he warned that if the UK’s demands fall on “deaf ears” he will “rule nothing out” – the strongest hint to date he could countenance the UK leaving the EU.

The main proposals in the speech – which are dependent on Mr Cameron remaining in power after May’s general election – are:

  • Stopping EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits, such as tax credits, and getting access to social housing for four years
  • Stopping migrants claiming child benefit for dependents living outside the UK
  • Removing migrants from the UK after six months if they have not found work
  • Restricting the right of migrants to bring family members into the UK
  • Stopping EU jobseekers claiming Universal Credit
  • Speeding up deportation of convicted criminals
  • Longer re-entry bans for beggars and fraudsters removed from the UK
  • Stopping citizens from new EU entrants working in the UK until “their economies have “converged more closely”.
  • Extra money for communities with high levels of migrants

Mr Cameron said there was “no doubt” his package of proposals would require changes to the treaties governing the European Union.

He began his speech by saying migration had benefited the UK and that he was proud of the “multi-racial” nature of modern Britain.

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View from Europe: 

David Cameron’s speech has made headlines here in Poland, with commercial news channel TVN24 leading on the story on its website.

“Cameron wants to raise a barrier to immigrants, including from Poland,” it wrote.

But Mr Cameron’s speech has not provoked the outrage here that his comments on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show in January did.

Then Mr Cameron specifically mentioned Poles when he spoke about the need to crack down on EU immigrants claiming benefits payments in the UK. Polish government officials said his words “stigmatised” Poles and were discriminatory.

This time around Mr Cameron called the Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz last night to appraise Warsaw about his speech.

When he mentioned the Poles in the speech he spoke about the contribution of Polish pilots during the Battle of Britain.

One Polish government official told me the speech was “rather moderate” and he noted Downing Street kept Warsaw in the loop about it.

The government here does not oppose moves in the UK to close benefit payment loopholes but Warsaw wants London to do it in a way that is non-discriminatory and in line with EU regulations.

I watched the speech with students at Torun’s Copernicus University. Several told me they planned to go to the UK following their studies. None said the proposed benefit restrictions would put them off as they planned to work, not claim benefits.

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But he said immigration levels in recent years, which he said were the largest in peacetime, had put unsustainable pressure on public services and demands for change were “not outlandish or unreasonable”.

“We deserve to be heard and we must be heard,” he said. “Here is an issue which matters to the British people and to our future of the European Union.

“The British people will not understand – frankly I will not understand – if a sensible way through cannot be found, which will help settle this country’s place in the EU once and for all.”

Mr Cameron, who spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker before the speech, said he wanted the package to be adopted across the EU but that if it was not, he would seek a new UK-only arrangement.

‘Cap dropped’

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Cameron’s welfare curbs were “a tougher version of an approach already set out by Labour and the Liberal Democrats” but the proposed four-year limit on benefits would be difficult to negotiate in Brussels.

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