As reported in the Independent:
UK will tackle European migrants’ benefits despite Merkel warning over Britain leaving EU, says George Osborne; German Chancellor was reported to have said David Cameron as reaching ‘point of no return’ in his demands to change rules on freedom of movement
George Osborne today insisted that the Government would end the “unfair” exploitation of freedom of movement rules by migrant workers in the face of warnings from Germany that it could push Britain towards leaving the European Union.
Yesterday the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was reported as telling David Cameron she would be prepared to see Britain leave the EU rather than give in to his demands for new quotas on migrant workers coming to the UK.
Ms Merkel is understood to have told the Prime Minister he was approaching a “point of no return” where his demands for changes in Britain’s relationship with the EU were not acceptable to Germany.
But today Mr Osborne insisted that Berlin understood the “disquiet” in the UK about the issue of migrants coming from within the EU to potentially claim benefits and said he and David Cameron would act in the country’s national interest.
Rather than quotas Downing Street is understood to be now looking at restricting migrant workers access to in work benefits – such as tax credits and child benefit – which make the UK such an attractive destination for foreign workers.
But senior Tory backbencher David Davis increased the pressure on Mr Cameron to secure major changes to EU free movement rules by warning that reform to benefits rules would not be “enough”.
“It’s got to be a change in the so-called free movement rules to take on board that sometimes one country has an average wage one eighth of another country and therefore if you don’t do something there is going to be a massive flow from one to the other,” he said.
Mr Osborne told the BBC he had “good discussions” with the Germans in recent days and they understood the UK’s position.
Mr Osborne, who dismissed the reports of Mrs Merkel’s comments as speculation, said: “We have had good discussions with the Germans; I was in Berlin just a few days ago myself.
“They understand the disquiet that is caused amongst British people when you have people coming in from other parts of Europe here, to claim our benefits, who don’t necessarily have jobs to go to.
“This is creating a huge pressure on public services, the British public want this addressed.
“So we are going to do this in a calm and rational way, but the British people want this addressed, we are employed by the British people, and that’s what we are going to do.”
He continued: “What we are going to address is the question of how the freedom of movement operates in the 21st century.
“It was never envisaged that you would have such large numbers of people coming, people coming who don’t have job offers, people who move on to our benefits system – although we have been able to tighten that up in recent months, but it’s still the case that they can do that – and that causes a lot of public unhappiness, because they think it’s unfair and of course these are welfare payments paid for by hard-working taxpayers.”
Capitalising on the row Nigel Farage insisted the Germans “don’t bluff” and claimed Mrs Merkel would rather Britain leaves than renegotiate EU treaties.
“Mr Cameron was pushed, I think by Ukip’s success in Clacton, into extending his renegotiating position into saying we should renegotiate freedom of movement. It isn’t going to happen.
“My experience of Brussels politics is that the Germans don’t bluff. They are very straightforward, they really do say what they think and Mrs Merkel would rather Britain left the European Union than those treaties started to be unpicked.”
He added: “Mr Cameron will try and fiddle around at the edges. What he will not be able to do is to change the basic principle that nearly half a billion people if they want can come to this country. That isn’t going to change.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said: “These comments by a German government spokesperson reveal that David Cameron is both losing influence and losing allies in Europe.
“His weakness within his own party means he now risks pushing Britain towards exit from Europe altogether.
“The right road for Britain is reform within Europe, not exit from Europe.
“Britain needs leadership on Europe which puts jobs, investments and the national interest first. It’s clear that is not what we are getting from David Cameron.”
As reported in the Guardian:
Osborne downplays row with Germany over EU freedom of movement;
Chancellor dismisses report that Berlin would rather see UK leave EU than compromise over principle of free movement
George Osborne has insisted David Cameron will seek changes to how European Union freedom of movement operates and downplayed reports that Germany has warned such a move could lead the UK towards the exit.
The chancellor said he has had good discussions with the Germans and they were receptive to UK proposals.
When talking about what Cameron will seek from the EU, he mentioned changes to the rules around benefits, as well as “how freedom of movement operates”.
It was reported over the weekend in Der Spiegel that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, had warned Cameron that seeking a cap on migrant numbers was a line that could not be crossed.
Separately, it appears Downing Street has stopped pushing for quotas and is now looking at other options such as removing tax credits for migrants or asking them to leave if they are not supporting themselves after three months.
Osborne brushed off the report about Merkel’s warning.
“First of all, you need to know that David Cameron and the Conservative party always puts Britain’s national interest first and we will do what’s in the interest of this country and the interest of this country’s economy,” he said.
“What we have today is a story which is based on speculation about what Angela Merkel might have said about something that David Cameron might say in the future. So I think it’s a little bit thin.
“We have had good discussions with the Germans; I was in Berlin just a few days ago myself. They understand the disquiet that is caused amongst British people when you have people coming from other parts of Europe here to claim our benefits, who don’t necessarily have jobs to go to. This is creating a huge pressure on public services and the British public want this addressed.
“So we’re going to do this in a calm and rational way, but the British people want this addressed. We’re employed by the British people and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Cameron is expected to set out his plans for reducing EU immigration before Christmas, but Osborne would not be drawn on the plans.
“You’ve got to wait to hear what David Cameron’s got to say; I’m not going to speak for him and give his speech on this sofa today,” he said.
“What we’re going to address is this question of how freedom of movement operates in the 21st century. It was never envisaged that you would have such large numbers of people coming, people coming who don’t have job offers, people who move onto our benefit system, although we’ve been able to tighten that up in recent months, but it’s still the case that they can do that.
“And that causes a lot of public unhappiness because they think it’s unfair. Of course, these are welfare payments paid for by hardworking British taxpayers.”
David Davis, a senior Tory MP and former leadership contender, said such comments between leaders were to be expected in the course of “real negotiation”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s probably the biggest negotiation in the modern history of Europe if it’s looked at seriously and so we should expect what we are seeing now. These sort of bloodcurdling comments from both national leaders in Europe like Merkel, like [Radoslaw] Sikorski earlier – a friend of David Cameron, Polish foreign secretary – these are to be expected at this stage of the negotiation, a couple, two or three years away from the outcome. And of course they are driven very often by domestic politics. Merkel is important, of course, leader of the biggest country in Europe, but she is not the Iron Lady.”
Asked whether Der Spiegel’s report was an accurate account of the encounter between Cameron and Merkel, a Number 10 official would only say: “The prime minister will do what is right for Britain as he has repeatedly made clear.”
However, a spokesman for the German chancellor indirectly confirmed Der Spiegel’s report by reiterating a statement Merkel had made at a press conference after the recent EU summit: “Germany does not want to touch the basic principle of free movement of persons within the EU.”
The renewed rhetoric comes amid speculation that Cameron is rowing back from his focus and tough language on immigration amid fears that the Conservatives will never be able to go as far as Ukip supporters want. Jim Messina, a US election strategist who worked on Barack Obama’s campaign, is said to have told a Tory awayday on Friday that every moment the party is not talking about the economy between now and the election is wasted.
However, Boris Johnson will keep to the subject of immigration on Monday, as he backs a report by the Commonwealth Exchange calling for more immigration from Commonwealth countries instead of so much from the EU.
In his foreword, he will say: “We should welcome the brightest and the best from a wider range of countries.
“As we re-examine our relationship with the EU, we have a vital opportunity to recast our immigration system in just this way. And the first place to start is with the Commonwealth.”
As reported in The Daily Express:
No benefits for migrants! New call to crack down on handouts
EU Migrants must be banned from claiming benefits for up to three years, ministers were told last night.
A major overhaul is needed to stop the “perverse incentives” that have turned Britain into a magnet for welfare tourism, a pamphlet from a leading think tank urges.
The call came amid a growing row between Britain and Germany over David Cameron’s plan to curb EU freedom-of-movement rules.
And in a sign that the Government is responding to pressure at last, Chancellor George Osborne signalled that EU migrants could be blocked from coming to the UK to live unless they have a job offer.
Acknowledging there was “a lot of public unhappiness” about new arrivals getting access to the welfare system, he said: “This is creating a huge pressure on public services, the British public want this addressed.”
The pamphlet published by Open Europe yesterday called for new EU rules that would ban any migrant from claiming welfare benefits, including tax credits, for two to three years from the date of arrival in their host country.
Authors David Chalmers and Stephen Booth said that “the inconsistencies and perverse incentives created by the European Union’s current rules” undermined public confidence in free movement.
It had “left people in many countries feeling that the system is out of control”.
Mr Booth, research director at Open Europe, said German Chancellor “Angela Merkel has consistently made it clear that Germany is very wary of unpicking the fundamental principle of free movement within the European Union.
“However, Germany and other national governments across the EU would be sympathetic to reforms to access to welfare.”
The proposal was echoed by senior Tories yesterday.
Syed Kamall, leader of the Tories in the European Parliament, also called for his party to adopt a new election pledge to stop EU migrants claiming any benefits, including tax credits, for up to two years.
“I’d like us to say if we win the next election that benefits from the end of 2017 have to be contributory.
“That gives people now in the system time to contribute,” he said.
“Anyone who wants to get benefits would have to pay in for two years.
“One of the problems we face is that we have a universal benefits system whereas other countries have the contributory benefits system.”
Backbencher David Davis yesterday insisted fellow Eurosceptic MPs would not accept any new EU deal that did not include curbs on free movement.
He said: “It’s got to be a change in the so-called free movement rules to take on board that sometimes one country has an average wage one-eighth of another country.
“Therefore if you don’t do something there is going to be a massive flow from one to the other.”
But a spokesman for Mrs Merkel insisted that the principle of freedom of movement was “non-negotiable”.
His intervention was seen as a clear warning that the Germans could scupper David Cameron’s attempt to restrict the right of EU citizens to come to the UK.
Mr Osborne yesterday dismissed reports that Mrs Merkel was losing patience with British complaints about EU immigration rules as “speculation”.
He said: “We have had good discussions with the Germans.
“I was in Berlin just a few days ago myself.
“They understand the disquiet that is caused amongst British people when you have people coming in from other parts of Europe, to claim our benefits, who don’t necessarily have jobs to go to.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage insisted yesterday Germany will block any attempt to restrict EU migration to the UK.
He said: “My experience of Brussels politics is that the Germans don’t bluff.
“They are very straightforward, they really do say what they think and Mrs Merkel would rather Britain left the European Union than those treaties started to be unpicked.”
He said the Prime Minister was only trying to win concessions from Brussels on immigration policy because of Ukip’s victory in the recent Clacton by-election.
“Mr Cameron was pushed, I think, by Ukip’s success in Clacton into extending his renegotiating position into saying we should renegotiate freedom of movement.
“It isn’t going to happen.”
As reported in the Daily Mail:
Chancellor talks tough as Merkel refuses to back down on migration
The European Union is not working for Britain’, George Osborne warned last night.
The Chancellor said the EU was causing problems for us’ – and warned the continent was pricing itself out of the world economy’.
The stark assessment came as the European Commission confirmed the UK would be charged interest payments if it refuses to pay a disputed £1.7billion surcharge levied last month.
Berlin has also reiterated that Angela Merkel believes the EU’s principle of free movement, which David Cameron wants to curb, is non-negotiable’.
The German chancellor is said to have warned Mr Cameron that she would rather see Britain leave the EU than allow him to tear up free movement.
But a leading think-tank has suggested limiting all benefits for EU migrants for the first three years to reduce the so-called pull factors’.
Senior Tory MPs warned the Prime Minister he could not afford to back down over the issue – and Mr Osborne suggested there was no longer a place for Britain in an unreformed EU.
He told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: Britain joined [the EU] for economic reasons, and when it’s not working economically for Britain that’s why we get this debate about the membership of the EU and the nature of that membership.
I’m someone who wants to stay in the EU, I think that’s right for Britain, but it has to be a reformed EU.’
He said that the EU was morphing more and more into a eurozone focused on the survival of its currency’. He added: It’s perfectly alright for the UK to say as the big country that’s not in the euro, this relationship is not working properly for us.’ Meanwhile, a think-tank has urged Mr Cameron to restrict access to the NHS for migrants from the EU until they have lived here for three years.
For that period they should lose access to almost all benefits, including tax credits, housing benefit and free use of the NHS, according to a report by the think-tank Open Europe, which enjoys close links to Government.
The Daily Mail revealed last month that the Treasury is already looking at ways to curb access to tax credits, which are seen as a major incentive for people to travel to Britain to work.
Currently, Britain is spending £5billion every year on tax credits for migrant workers from both inside and outside the EU.
Former Tory leadership contender David Davis said Mr Cameron should face down Mrs Merkel and demand the right to limit immigration from the EU. He said proposals to curb access to benefits would not be enough to satisfy public concerns. Prominent Eurosceptic Bernard Jenkin backed the call to stand firm, saying: ‘In my view we actually have to take back control over our borders’.
Mr Jenkin said Mrs Merkel’s stance was just a negotiating position’ and urged Mr Cameron to call her bluff.
Last night there were indications Brussels may back down over the size of the £1.7billion additional levy when Mr Osborne holds crisis talks on the issue with fellow EU finance ministers on Friday. One senior EU official said: There is widespread willingness to find a way forward.’
As reported in the Daily Telegraph:
David Cameron to push ahead with freedom of movement curbs, George Osborne insists;
PM will review right of jobless European migrants to come to Britain, despite German opposition, Chancellor says
David Cameron will press ahead with curbs to freedom of movement within the European Union despite warnings from Germany that it could force Britain to leave the bloc, George Osborne insisted today.
George Osborne said the Prime Minister is determined to address “how freedom of movement operates”, and signalled he will impose curbs on access to benefits for migrants.
He indicated the PM will also move to block migration by people who do not have job offers.
It follows reports that Angela Merkel regards it as incompatible with membership of the European Union.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, suggested Mrs Merkel was bluffing.
German government sources told Der Spiegel that Mrs Merkel, the German Chancellor, is prepared to see Britain leave the EU if Mr Cameron pushed on with his plan to restrict immigration from within the bloc.
In what was seen as a shot across Mr Cameron’s bows, it was reported that his attempts to reform the fundamental principle of free movement would push Britain to a “point of no return” and Mrs Merkel is prepared to stop campaigning to keep the UK in the EU.
The opposition of Britain’s most important ally in Europe to the plan could put Mr Cameron’s entire negotiation strategy in jeopardy.
But Mr Osborne dismissed the reports as “speculation” and insisted Germany “understands the disquiet” that British people feel at high migration levels.
“David Cameron and the Conservative party always puts Britain’s national interest first and we will do what is in the interest of this country and the interest of this country’s economy,” Mr Osborne said.
“We have had good discussions with the Germans. I was in Berlin just a few days ago myself. They understand the disquiet that is caused amongst British people when you have people coming from other parts of Europe here to claim our benefits, who don’t necessarily have jobs to go to. This is creating a huge pressure on public services and the British public want this addressed.”
“So we’re going to do this in a calm and rational way, but the British people want this addressed. We’re employed by the British people and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Chancellor confirmed David Cameron would address “how freedom of movement operates”.
“What we’re going to address is this question of how freedom of movement operates in the twenty-first century. It was never envisaged that you would have such large numbers of people coming, people coming who don’t have job offers, people who move onto our benefit system,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We’ve been able to tighten that up in recent months, but it’s still the case that they can do that. That causes a lot of public unhappiness because they think it’s unfair. Of course, these are welfare payments paid for by hard-working British taxpayers.”
Mr Johnson said it was “unthinkable” for Germany to want Britain to leave the EU.
“I think it’s the last thing they want. We are close allies in our vision for a free-trade Europe, for reducing bureaucracy, for reducing the wastefulness, all that kind of thing. They need us as a counterpoise to the French and the Mediterranean economies and their way of doing things.
“I think it’s absolutely unthinkable that Germany would want us to leave so I think you’ve got to regard this as the staking out of positions in advance of what will be a very tough but, I think, ultimately successful negotiation.”
David Davis, the Conservative MP who challenged Mr Cameron for the Tory Party leadership, suggested Mrs Merkel’s “blood curdling” remarks were bluster, driven by “domestic politics.”
“She is not the Iron Lady,” he said, adding Germany was worried that if Britain tightened its borders more migrants would go to Germany.
As reported by the New Statesman’s Staggers blog:
What does Merkel’s “red line” on EU migration rules mean for British Politics?
Germany would sacrifice UK’s EU membership in order not to compromise the EU’s principle of free movement of workers. What are the political implications?
Angela Merkel has made some highly telling comments about the future of Britain’s EU membership.
The German magazine Der Spiegel reports that she would accept UK’s exit from the European Union in order not to compromise over the core principle of free movement of workers. This suggests that she would refuse David Cameron’s attempt at curbing the level of EU migrants entering Britain in any future renegotiation.
Reportedly, Merkel sees any attempted change to the freedom of movement rules as the “point of no return” for the UK’s EU membership. The Guardian reports that Merkel has warned Cameron about this, and that Downing Street has not denied that such a conversation took place.
What does this mean for British politics?
Comments like this make things very difficult for the Prime Minister. He has said that changing EU rules about migrants would be “at the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe”.
But he hasn’t so far said that he would campaign for an Out vote in a future EU referendum if he doesn’t achieve the renegotiation he’s aiming for – partly because he needs to appear to have faith in his renegotiation, and mainly because he believes in the benefits of Britain’s EU membership.
The idea of Cameron being unable to achieve such a renegotiation – and therefore unable to curb immigration from EU member states to the UK – is what allows Ukip, disillusioned voters and his more eurosceptic frontbenchers to say he lacks credibility on the EU issue.
Not all Conservative backbenchers, but many of the “awkward squad” eurosceptic and generally rebellious rightwingers, will use this as yet another opportunity to criticise their leadership for delaying an EU referendum until 2017, and waiting for a renegotiation which will not bring the changes they so desire. Indeed, many of them would prefer the renegotiation not to work so that the only option would be to leave the European Union.
However, the eurosceptics have always been troublemakers on the EU. What should be more worrying to the Tory leadership is those in the party with more nuanced views towards Europe seeing the PM lose further credibility in Brussels. One usually loyal Tory MP told me that, “no one believes him [David Cameron]” when he talks about calling a referendum, let alone a beneficial renegotiation.
David Davis, an influential former Tory minister and eurosceptic MP who doesn’t call for outright departure from the EU, told the BBC’s Today programme this morning: “we should have started renegotiating much earlier. Both sides [anti-EU voices in Britain, and EU states who want Britain to stay] don’t really believe you when you really do mean it.”
Davis also said a “red line” for Britain “has got to be a change of the so-called free movement rules” and that concessions on benefit changes are “not enough”. He argued that Cameron should give a suggestion to Germany and the EU leadership that there is a prospect that Britain could leave, if it doesn’t compromise: “If you’re going to get the Europeans to take you seriously, you’ve got to hold out the prospect of leaving”. He revealed that there are “quite a few cabinet ministers who do believe that”.
One of the major factors behind Ukip shoring up the Tory vote in many constituencies is that it calls itself the only party that would take Britain out of the European Union. It has a very simply message: the Prime Minister would not be able to negotiate a curb on EU migrant levels, and the only way for him to do it would be to take the UK out of the European Union. Merkel’s comments gives Ukip more ammunition when saying that Cameron’s planned renegotiation is impossible.
Although on the surface a weakened Prime Minister is Brussels provides an opportunity for the opposition to question his credibility, this isn’t good news for the Labour party.
Labour is the only main party that has not agreed to support an EU referendum – even the Greens would back one – and is serious about making the business case in favour of Britain’s membership, with its recent appointment of Pat McFadden MP as shadow Europe minister. Although there has been a dilemma among its MEPs and national party on its approach to defending UK in the EU, as I reported last week, the party does now acknowledge that it must up its game on this. Merkel’s comments make it harder for Labour to make a positive, but popular, case for remaining in the EU. The party must identify and agree to solve problems with Britain’s membership if it makes it to government.
According to the respected MP and former Labour frontbencher Alan Johnson, Labour must be prepared to use its diplomacy to achieve its own renegotiation of the free movement rule. Johnson told me last week:
“Away from the childish shenanigans of Cameron, who really hasn’t learnt the ABC of negotiation, [we must] say we’re the answer to solving some of those problems, including some of the issues around free movement, which in a proper dialogue amongst allies, without threats, I think we’d find a lot of support around Europe for changes to the system, now that there’s 28 member states and not six. We have to make that argument without chasing a Ukip vote, trying to out-Ukip Ukip. We’ll leave that to the Tories.”