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01/10/2016

Poland disagrees with UK on ‘Brexit’ welfare restrictions

UK & Europe

Poland disagrees with UK on ‘Brexit’ welfare restrictions

David Cameron

[Number 10/Flickr]

Some of Britain’s demands for EU reform are acceptable, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said on Thursday (10 December), but added there was no agreement on Prime Minister David Cameron’s push to curb welfare payments to EU migrants.

Cameron has promised to reform Britain’s relationship with the 28-member bloc before a membership referendum by the end of 2017 but his welfare demands have proved most problematic, particularly among eastern European member states.

Szydlo said Poland wanted Britain to remain in the European Union and would do everything to support the country.

“There are proposals from the British government, which are without discussions acceptable for us,” Szydlo told a joint news conference with Cameron in Warsaw after a meeting to discuss the British renegotiation.

“There are issues on which there is not a full agreement between us … This is, among others, the issue of welfare benefits.”

Szydlo did not answer when asked by a British journalist whether Poland would ever accept Cameron’s proposal for a four-year ban on EU migrants receiving some benefits in Britain.

The British leader said the problem of migration flows and the pressure they put on public services needed to be addressed and the pair had agreed to work together to find a solution.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=WnacUGInGSM

“I believe with the type of political will I have seen here in Poland we can find a way,” he said.

>>Read: December deal for EU reform difficult, says Commission’s Brexit boss Faull

On Wednesday (9 December) Cameron visited the Romanian capital, Bucharest, in a bid to persuade President Klaus Iohannis of the UK’s demands on welfare curbs – seen by his ruling Conservative party as a ‘pull factor’ in attracting EU migrants.

“Net migration in the UK is running at well over 300,000 a year and that is not sustainable,” he said. “So we do need to find ways to allow member states to make changes to their social security systems that will help them to deal with this issue.

“Romanians, alongside other Europeans, make a valuable contribution to the United Kingdom in a wide range of fields, from finance to science and medicine,” he said. “But it was never envisaged that free movement would trigger quite such vast numbers of people moving across our continent.”

Last week EU Council President Donald Tusk issued his letter on the state of EU-UK negotiations ahead of the in/out referendum, ahead of next week’s summit on the issue, where he admitted there was ‘no consensus’ yet on the issue.

Britain’s other demands – on improving competitiveness, on protecting the City of London and the status of sterling within the eurozone, and opting-out of ‘ever closer union’ are seen as less problematic.

Background

Britain’s governing Conservative Party won an absolute majority in the UK general election on 7 May 2015. With 12 more MPs than the other parties combined, the Conservatives no longer have to rely on a coalition partner.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.

If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.

Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.

But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.

Timeline

  • 17-18 December 2015: European Council summit on the 'Brexit' issue
  • February 2016: Next planned European Council meeting.
  • 2016: Likely year for British EU referendum.
  • 2017: Self-imposed end of year deadline for British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold his in/out referendum.