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  1. Politics
28 November 2014updated 24 Jul 2021 1:59am

A “game-changing“ policy? David Cameron plans for EU migrants to wait four years for benefits

In his long-awaited speech on immigration, the Prime Minister will set out benefit restrictions for European migrants, but this is not exactly "game-changing".

By Anoosh Chakelian

We’ve recently heard Labour and the Lib Dems set out their proposals for restricting benefits to EU migrants. We’ve always known what Ukip’s plan would be. But the Prime Minister has kept the country waiting for his plans for approaching immigration in the UK.

His long-awaited big speech on the subject will take place later this morning, and in it, he will follow Labour and the Lib Dems by making his key proposal to curb benefits migrants receive when they arrive in Britain. Going significantly further than Labour’s plan to delay welfare to migrants by two years, Cameron will say they should have to wait at least four years to receive benefits and council houses.

However, what is more telling is what the Prime Minister will not be announcing in his speech. Unless he makes a surprise announcement later, it appears that he will not call for a cap on the net migration level, and nor will he propose imposing quotas on incoming migrants.

This omission is interesting, as it is his failure to achieve his target, promised at the last election, to bring the number down to the “tens of thousands” for which he receives most condemnation from Ukip and rightwingers on his own backbenches. It is clear that, in spite of his detractors, Cameron has realised that it is too difficult to meet such targets, and also unworkable to impose them – how do you decide who and who isn’t allowed in?

In the build-up to this speech in the last few weeks, there have been whispers supposedly from Downing Street that Cameron would call for an “emergency brake” on EU migrant numbers in his renegotiation of Britain’s place in the EU. At the time, the Mail described control over our borders with the EU as Cameron’s “red line” in the negotiations.

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However, there is no mention of this “emergency brake” in his upcoming speech today. This may be because it has become clear that undermining the EU’s core principle of the freedom of movement of workers would be unthinkable to other EU states. Indeed, Cameron will acknowledge the importance of this principle:

Britain supports the principle of freedom of movement of workers. 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.

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.

We intend to cut migration from within Europe by dealing with abuse; restricting the ability of migrants to stay here without a job; and reducing the incentives for lower paid, lower skilled workers to come here in the first place.

The Prime Minister also hints that if he doesn’t achieve his aims during his renegotiations then, “of course I rule nothing out” – a vague suggestion to his eurosceptic MPs that he is not entirely beyond campaigning for an Out vote in an EU referendum.

However, the PM’s proposals today – basically taking Labour’s plan, but doubling the length of time EU migrants should be delayed their benefits – does not quite amount to the “game-changing” immigration strategy he has promised for so long.

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