Angela Merkel will hold talks in London with David Cameron today, Britain being her first foreign visit of the new year.
The Times is reporting that the German Chancellor is set to support the UK’s plans to curb benefits to EU migrants, part of the government’s push to drive down immigration levels. Merkel is reportedly poised to back British plans, supported by all three main Westminster party leaders, to cut millions of pounds of benefits sent abroad to the children of migrants.
Of course, this support does not go far enough for the Prime Minister. His ideal renegotiation of Britain’s place in the EU would be to somehow overhaul the principle of the freedom of movement for workers, in order to curb the number of EU migrants entering the UK. It’s highly unlikely that he will be able to achieve this, and Merkel had already made clear before her visit that any reforms she would consider supporting should not challenge the principle of free movement.
And curbing benefits to migrants will only get Cameron so far, both politically, and in terms of his aim to reduce the net migration level. This is because Ukip, and many in his own party, won’t be satisfied until the borders are controlled – senior Tory MP David Davis told the BBC’s Today programme this morning, “it will not be solved just by benefit changes” – and it is a myth that social security is a key reason for EU migrants coming to Britain.
However, his negotiations with Merkel today regarding child benefits being spent overseas could work for Cameron in the short term. It will demonstrate the UK’s ability to extract concessions from Germany, crucial for the future renegotiation of UK’s EU membership. It is also a stop-gap measure for Cameron, which is better than nothing, in an election year where he is fighting off the threat to his vote from a eurosceptic party. We know that the biggest immigration concern among voters is migrants’ so-called drain on the welfare state (which is, again, a myth), so it will play well with voters that the PM can make significant headway in cutting benefits to migrants.