EU may seek ‘alternatives’ to UK plan to ban migrant benefits

Afghan refugees disembark from a dinghy after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea this week. Picture: AP

Afghan refugees disembark from a dinghy after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea this week. Picture: AP

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David Cameron has discussed the possibility of Britain getting an “emergency brake” on high EU migration levels with his Czech Republic counterpart.

Speaking at a joint press conference in Prague yesterday, Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka again played down the prospects of the UK securing its proposal of a four-year ban on migrants getting in-work benefits, 
saying he would not accept “discriminatory” measures.

But he added: “We discussed possible alternatives forward on this issue. The UK has introduced their proposal... we discussed other possible alternatives to meet the same objective, ie make it possible for the UK government to respond to the mass influx of workers.

“This option involves giving a member state the possibility of an emergency brake if there is immense pressure on its welfare system.”

He said: “It is very important for us that any solution that is adopted on a European level does not discriminate.”

Mr Cameron made clear that the four-year proposal was still on the table, but he said he “welcomed” alternatives that would have a similar impact on migration.

He said he would not rush an agreement if it was not “available” in time for the Brussels summit on 18 February.

But he indicated he still thought a deal was possible by then, pointing to the “goodwill” of other states.

“I firmly believe there is a pathway to an agreement. I am confident that with the help of European partners and with goodwill we will be able to get there and find mutually satisfactory conclusions,” he said.

Mr Cameron’s predecessor as Conservative leader delivered a gloomy assessment of the PM’s chances of securing a good enough reform deal to justify keeping Britain in the EU. Lord Howard told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I am waiting to see what the Prime Minister is coming up with.

“I have always wanted the United Kingdom to remain in a genuinely reformed European Union.

“It is not looking very likely, I have to say, that we are going to see a genuinely reformed European Union.”

Mr Cameron’s proposal for a four-year ban on migrants claiming in-work benefits in the UK has become the main stumbling block, with the Government prepared to consider other options if they meet the aim of curbing numbers coming from other member states.

The UK has been working to persuade members of the Visegrad Group – the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary – to support the plans.

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