Conservatives lay out EU promises in manifesto

The Conservative Party launched its election manifesto today (16 April) with a promise to scrap the Human Rights Act, and hold a referendum on EU membership in 2017. EURACTIV UK reports.

Speaking at the launch in Swindon, David Cameron said the manifesto was a promise for “a good life for all”.

The Tories again pledged to reduce net migration into the UK down to the tens of thousands. The same commitment was made before the last election. The latest official figure put net immigration at close to 300,000 per year.

This has become a key political battleground between the Conservatives and UK Independence Party.

>>Read: Election manifesto: UKIP will increase defence, NHS spending

UKIP claim that the only way to reduce migration to those sorts of levels is for the UK to leave the EU.

The Tories also said that they would reduce internal EU migration by restricting access to benefits.

In particular, the manifesto stated:

· Only people living in the UK for four years will be eligible for tax credits and child benefit.

· A migrant must have been living in an area for four years before they are eligible for social housing.

Under Conservative plans, EU job seekers who remain jobless after six months will be asked to leave. They also want more powers to deport criminals, and longer reentry bans for those who have abused free movement rules.

>>Read: Eyeing kingmaker role, Britain’s Liberal Democrats pitch manifesto

The party has also promised to “scrap” the Human Rights Act, which it says will break the formal link between the UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights. The Tories blame the ECHR for insisting on the rights of prisoners to vote, and making it harder to deport suspected terrorists such as Abu Qatada.

Such reforms will now be expected to form the basis of any renegotiation of the terms of EU membership before 2017, when the Conservatives will say they will hold a referendum on EU membership.

The party claims only it can “deliver real change and real choice on Europe”. They say the EU is “too bureaucratic and too undemocratic”.

The manifesto backs the single market and moves to promote free trade, but not “ever closer union”. The manifesto pledges David Cameron will not lead a government which doesn’t offer a referendum. This sets out one of the few known ‘red lines’ in any future negotiations in the event of a hung parliament.

Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman accused the Conservatives of making “flaky election bribes”, adding it would be “working people that will pay the price of the Tories’ desperate campaign”.

The Conservative Party has long been known as a Eurosceptic party. But the recent surge in popularity for UKIP has seen the Tories adopt a harder line, and call for a referendum.

Until recently, this appeared to have done nothing to stem the growing support of UKIP. However the party's polls ratings have begun to drop. It is currently unclear if these voters are returning to the Conservatives or not.

The election is almost certain to produce a hung parliament.

UK general election: 7 May.

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