Peter Dominiczak, Telegraph, November 27, 2014
Britain must have the right to make European migrants wait four years before receiving welfare or council houses, David Cameron will say, as he warns that he could be prepared to leave the European Union.
In his long-awaited speech on Europe, the Prime Minister will, for the first time, say that he will “rule nothing out” if fellow leaders reject his plans to overhaul the benefits system and suggests that he could be prepared to lead the campaign for a British exit.
Mr Cameron will say that he wants to ban foreign jobseekers claiming benefits and deport them from the UK if they do not find work within six months.
Foreigners will also be banned from sending millions of pounds worth of child benefit payments and tax credits abroad if they do not bring their children with them to the UK.
The Prime Minister will set out a number of “red lines” for his forthcoming renegotiation with Brussels, which he says will require EU treaties to be changed.
Mr Cameron, who has pledged to hold an in-out referendum in 2017, will demand that the concerns of British people “must be heard”.
The speech is designed to woo back disaffected UK Independence Party voters before the general election campaign.
Mr Cameron will say that the reforms will be a “return to rules” put in place by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s that were subsequently overturned by the European Court.
They would “deliver the toughest system on welfare for EU migrants anywhere in Europe”, he will add.
The proposals are an “absolute requirement in the renegotiation” with Brussels, Mr Cameron will say, warning that if they are not accepted, Britain could leave the EU.
However, he is sure to face criticism that his proposals do not go far enough as they do not include plans to tear up the freedom of movement rules, which currently allow an unlimited number of EU citizens to live and work in the UK.
Cabinet ministers had been urging him to announce plans for annual quotas of migrants or an “emergency brake” system allowing Britain to close its borders if there is a spike in foreigners coming here from a particular country.
Official figures show that migration from within the EU is at its highest-ever level.
Net migration to Britain increased to 260,000 last year, despite a Conservative pledge to reduce the total to just “tens of thousands”.
Net migration from within the EU is now 75 per cent higher than when Mr Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010.
“I say to our European partners,” the Prime Minister will declare, “we have real concerns. Our concerns are not outlandish or unreasonable.
“We deserve to be heard, and we must be heard. Here is an issue which matters to the British people, and to our future in 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.”
Downing Street hopes that the speech will “draw a line” under the immigration issue and allow Mr Cameron to focus relentlessly on the economy in the six months before the election.
However, there are fears that it will allow Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, to continue to take away crucial votes from the Conservatives by saying that Mr Cameron’s proposals do not go far enough.
Mr Cameron’s plan to end access for European migrants to tax credits, housing benefits and social housing for four years is designed to reduce dramatically the “pull factors” that encourage foreigners to come to the UK.
Banning new arrivals from claiming in-work benefits would mean many EU migrants on low-paid jobs would be worse off in Britain than if they remained at home.
Mr Cameron will say: “People have understandably become frustrated. It boils down to one word: control.
“People want government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union.
“And yet in recent years, it has become clear that successive governments have lacked control. People want grip. I get that. They don’t want limitless immigration and they don’t want no immigration.
“They want controlled immigration. And they are right.”
He will say that Britain does not want to “destroy” the principle of freedom of movement.
However, he will make clear that freedom of movement is not “an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years”.
As part of the plans, EU migrants will not be able to claim out-of-work benefits under the Universal Credit system and will be removed from the UK if they do not find a job within six months.
The Conservatives also want to abolish the current system whereby EU migrants can bring family members from outside the bloc to the UK without any restrictions.
Mr Cameron wants “tougher and longer” re-entry bans for foreign rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters and he is demanding stronger measures to allow EU criminals to be deported.
Crucially, the Prime Minister will also tell Brussels that he wants to prevent new member states from being given the same freedom of movement rights until their GDP reaches a certain level.
This would prevent large numbers of migrants leaving their home countries in order to take advantage of Britain’s economic success, Downing Street believes.
Albania, Turkey and Bosnia-Hercegovina are all currently attempting to join the EU.
“We want to create the toughest system in the EU for dealing with abuse of free movement,” the Prime Minister will say.
“We want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here and to stop UK taxpayers having to support them if they don’t. EU jobseekers who don’t pay in will no longer get anything out. And those who do come will no longer be able to stay if they can’t find work.
“The British people need to know that changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in the renegotiation.” He will add:
“My objective is simple: to make our immigration system fairer and reduce the current exceptionally high level of migration from within the EU into the UK.”
Following defeats by Ukip in two recent by-elections, Mr Cameron has come under growing pressure from his own ministers and backbenchers to state categorically that he is prepared to campaign to leave the EU if he is unable to renegotiate a good settlement for Britain.
At least six Cabinet ministers would opt to leave the EU on the current terms of membership, senior Conservative sources have said.
Mr Cameron promises the British people that if his renegotiation fails, he will “rule nothing out”.
“And to the British people I say this,” Mr Cameron will say. “If you elect me as Prime Minister in May, I will negotiate to reform the European Union, and Britain’s relationship with it. This issue of free movement will be a key part of that negotiation.
“If I succeed, I will, as I have said, campaign to keep this country in a reformed EU. If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out.” Mr Cameron will say that these changes should apply to the whole of the EU.
However, if that is blocked by European countries, he will negotiate the reforms as part of a UK-only settlement.
The speech puts Mr Cameron on a collision course with European leaders including Angela Merkel of Germany.
Mrs Merkel has previously offered limited backing for Mr Cameron’s EU reform agenda on issues such as benefits tourism. However, she has said that Mr Cameron will be unable to change the “fundamental” rules on freedom of movement of labour.
In his speech, Mr Cameron insists that he does not want to turn the principle of freedom of movement “on its head”.
He will say: “Accepting the principle of free movement of workers is a key to being part of the single market. So we do not want to destroy that principle or turn it on its head. But freedom of movement has never been an unqualified right, and we now need to allow it to operate on a more sustainable basis in the light of the experience of recent years.”
Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, is already conducting behind-the-scenes renegotiations with EU partners and said that the Government will tell Brussels that the UK is “prepared to stand up from the table and walk away” if its renegotiation is unsuccessful.