UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage has slammed David Cameron’s plans to slash the benefits of EU migrants because, to comply with European law, they must also hit UK citizens.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph this morning (30 July), Farage said the changes to child and unemployment welfare must apply to all EU citizens, including UK nationals, or face “the fiercest opposition in the European courts”.
Cameron announced yesterday that from November EU migrants would only be entitled to claim unemployment and child benefits for three months, rather than the previous six months. The crackdown is an attempt to win back voters lost to UKIP in the recent European elections.
In the column, Farage cited Articles 9 of the Treaty on European Union and Articles 18, 20, 45 and 48 of the Treaty on the Functioning of The European Union. Article 48, states this includes the “payment of benefits to persons resident in the territories of Member States.” Other EU laws made it very clear that EU citizens must be treated equally when it comes to benefits, he said.
The European Commission said yesterday it would “scrutinize” the crackdown to ensure it complied with EU law. UK government sources told British media they were confident the changes were legal and right.
Farage argued that the problem is not whether EU migrants claim benefits – they are less likely to than British people – but the fact they are more likely to claim in-work benefits, such as tax credits.
That is because they were, in the main, lower paid, wrote Farage, who said the EU’s “open-door immigration” from ex-communist low GDP countries was to blame.
“This brings me to the real issue […] the one that makes his benefits promises just so much window-dressing […] the impact of mass, low-waged and unskilled labour upon the wages, employment opportunities and services in this country," he wrote.
“The Prime Minister is promising to bring in measures that will affect a few thousand people, rather than deal with an issue that impacts on the lives of millions.”
UK Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said there was support in Europe for tougher rules on migration and benefits. Migrants should pay taxes before they claim benefits he said.
He told BBC Radio 4's World at One, "There's a growing consensus with places like Germany, Holland and Spain that there should not be a right to enter a country and claim benefits unless you have contributed.
"The eventual plan, and this is where we want to be, is that people should have contributed to the system when they come in before being able to come in and claim anything. At the moment we can only tighten up on what we've got."
UKIP is making immigration and the EU’s right to free movement of citizens an important part of its campaign for next year’s General Elections. Earlier this month Commission President-elect Jean Claude Juncker told Farage that free movement of workers within the EU was non-negotiable in a session with MEPs from Farage's Europe of Freedom and Democracy group in the European Parliament (more here).
So, to summarise, polls show that migration is the No1 political issue and UKIP is winning the public debate on it.
— Patrick O'Flynn (@oflynnmep) July 30, 2014
In October last year, a Commission report found there was no evidence of widespread benefits tourism in the EU, including the UK.
An April report commissioned by the UK Foreign Office also found that Bulgarian and Romanians were unlikely to claim benefits in the UK when free movement restrictions were lifted in January this year.
- May 2014: UK General Election
- 2017: Mooted date of referendum on UK membership of the EU