David Cameron will today unveil sweeping new restrictions on access to benefits for EU migrants.
The Prime Minister will insist that he shares the public’s ‘concerns’ about a renewed wave of migration from Europe.
Ahead of the lifting of controls on newcomers from Romania and Bulgaria on January 1, he will declare that the founding EU principle of ‘free movement’ for workers has gone too far.
Mr Cameron will say Labour’s record of failure meant many people are ‘deeply concerned’ about what will happen when the transitional restrictions come to an end, adding: ‘I share those concerns.’
He has responded with an emergency package of measures within days of a Daily Mail poll, published last Friday, which revealed more than four in five people do not want unrestricted access to the UK for Romanians and Bulgarians.
This was the trigger for other polls that signalled similar levels of public concern.
‘We need to face the fact that free movement has become a trigger for vast population movements caused by huge disparities in income,’ the Prime Minister will say, proposing a bar on arrivals from EU countries which do not meet a fixed level of average earnings.
By January 1, Mr Cameron will announce EU jobseekers will no longer be paid housing benefit to subsidise accommodation costs.
There will be time limits before out-of-work benefits can be claimed.
Migrants who currently get jobseekers’ allowance after less than a month will have to wait three months before claiming.
Benefits will no longer be paid indefinitely, with payments stopped after six months unless people have a genuine prospect of employment.
Beggars and vagrants from EU countries will be removed and barred from re-entering Britain for 12 months.
Most controversially, the Government is planning a new ‘minimum earnings threshold’ – below which benefits that top up earnings, such as income support, will be cut altogether.
Government sources said the threshold had yet to be set, but would aim to prevent EU workers topping up low incomes with benefits.
Ministers insist they are powerless to prevent a potential influx of workers from the two countries because of EU rules.
Some of the measures can be implemented immediately, but others are expected to require emergency legislation which may not be in place by January 1. It is not known if the plans will face legal challenges from Brussels.
Mr Cameron will accuse Labour of a ‘monumental mistake’ in failing to control immigration from Eastern Europe.
He will say its refusal to impose controls on new EU members in 2004 led to a surge in immigration. One million people from central and Eastern Europe now live in the UK.
‘In 2004, the Labour Government made the decision that the UK should opt out completely of transitional controls on the new EU member states.
They had the right to impose a seven-year ban before new citizens could come and work here, but – almost alone in Europe – Labour refused it. That was a monumental mistake,’ Mr Cameron writes in an article for the Financial Times today.
He will say: ‘That was the moment to address difficult questions about when to allow new entrants full access to each others’ labour markets – but the Labour Government ducked these questions.’
The Immigration Bill, he will add, already seeks to reduce ‘pull factors’ to Britain. He will also unveil four new measures.
‘We are changing the rules so that no one can come to this country and expect to get out-of-work benefits immediately; we will not pay them for the first three months. If after three months an EU national needs benefits – we will no longer pay these indefinitely.’
He will say: ‘They will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment. We are also toughening up the test which migrants who want to claim benefits must undergo.
‘This will include a new minimum earnings threshold. If they don’t pass the test, we’ll cut off access to benefits such as income support.
‘Newly arrived EU jobseekers will not be able to claim housing benefit. If people are not here to work – if they are begging or sleeping rough – they will be removed. They will then be barred from re-entry for 12 months, unless they can prove they have a proper reason to be here.’
Mr Cameron will say free movement is key to his attempts to carve out a looser relationship with Brussels ahead of an in/out referendum on EU membership by 2017.
‘Britain, as part of our plan to reform the EU, will now work with others to return the concept of free movement to a more sensible basis.
‘And we need to do the same with welfare.
For example, free movement shouldn’t be about exporting child benefit – I want to work with our European partners to address this.’
The PM will say he wants to look at various options to stop surges of immigration.
‘One would be to require a new country to reach a certain share of average EU GDP per head before full free movement was allowed.
Individual member states could be freed to impose a cap if their inflow from the EU reached a certain number in a single year.
‘I look forward to working with other countries who also want reform – and to putting the choice about our future in Europe in a referendum.’
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: ‘These are sensible and reasonable reforms to ensure that the right to work does not automatically mean the right to claim.’k
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