DAVID Cameron’s plans for an “arbitrary” cap on the number of migrants coming to the UK from the rest of the EU would be illegal, the outgoing European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has warned.
Mr Barroso said yesterday that free movement of people within the EU was an essential principle and that any plan to cut immigration from within the 28-member bloc would breach equality rules.
The stark warning came amid reports the Prime Minister wants to limit the number of national insurance numbers issued to low-skilled migrants from EU countries in a bid to crack down on immigration.
Mr Cameron has said that he intends to negotiate a better deal for the UK in Europe ahead of an in-out referendum if he is re-elected as Prime Minister in next May’s General Election.
The Conservative leader said he would “not take no for an answer” and “get what Britain needs” to change rules allowing citizens from other EU nations to move to any other member state.
But Mr Barroso said restricting migrant numbers would “not be in conformity with European laws” and warned that the UK would have “zero” influence if it voted to leave the EU, as Ukip and some members of Mr Cameron’s own party have demanded.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “I cannot comment on specific suggestions that have not yet been presented. What I can tell you is that any kind of arbitrary cap seems to be not in conformity with European laws. For us it is very important – the principle of non-discrimination. The freedom of movement is a very important principle in the internal market – movement of goods, of capital, of services and of people.”
He said Mr Cameron had previously asked him to enforce the free movement principle between Spain and Gibraltar. Mr Barroso said 1.4 million Britons lived elsewhere in the EU and it was a “matter of fairness” that other EU citizens had the same rights.
He said: “I remember when Prime Minister Cameron called me to ask the commission to be tough ensuring the freedom of movement between Gibraltar and Spain.
“The British citizens have freedom of movement all over Europe. There are 700,000 living in Spain. So the principle of the freedom of movement is essential, we have to keep it.”
The Conservatives lost the recent Clacton by-election to Nigel Farage’s Ukip, which wants the UK to pull out of the EU and backs further restrictions on immigration.
Mr Barroso also criticised Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for saying last week that Britain was “lighting a fire under the European Union” by holding an in-out referendum on membership.
He said: “I’m told the Foreign Secretary was the former Minister of Defence. I think this reference to fire and weapons is more appropriate for defence than Foreign Secretary.”
The EC president, who leaves office later this month, also said the UK could not negotiate with the US and China “on an equal footing” on its own.
Mr Barroso said there was a willingness to discuss constructively the UK’s concerns and insisted the UK would wield more influence on the world stage from within the EU than outside it.
“He [David Cameron] knows well that without the EU, Britain will have less influence,” he said.
Pointing to the Ebola crisis as an example, he added: “David Cameron wrote to all of us about Ebola… What would be the influence of a prime minister of Britain if it was not part of the European Union? His influence would be zero.”
However, senior Conservatives hit back last night, claiming that existing EU rules meant unrestricted immigration from other member states to the UK.
International development secretary Justine Greening said free movement of labour was “never meant to be a totally unqualified principle”.
She said: “Although we have managed to bring non-EU migration levels down to the lowest level since the 1990s, we do need to see action taken in relation to immigration that’s within the EU.
“That means taking a fundamental look at some of the rules that allow unrestricted immigration in a way that we don’t think is sensible.”
Asked about the national insurance proposals, she said: “I think the government is looking at a whole range of ways in which we could see the European policy around migration work more effectively, but also what we can do right here in the UK as well.”
Conservative chairman Grant Shapps said: “We cannot have an open-ended situation where people are able to always come to Britain in such a lopsided arrangement.”
End of free EU movement ‘will slow down tourism growth’
SCOTLAND’S tourism industry would be harmed by David Cameron’s plans to end free movement for European Union citizens, the Scottish Government has warned.
Tourism minister Fergus Ewing has demanded that immigration policy be devolved in the wake of the Prime Minister’s promise to end the principle of free movement within the EU, to stem immigration to the UK.
Mr Cameron is yet to reveal the full details on how he would achieve this as part of his re-negotiation of the terms of the UK’s EU membership but his comments have thrown into question the ability of EU citizens to holiday in the UK and Scotland without having to fill in paperwork first.
The tourist industry represents around five per cent of Scotland’s GDP and last year brought in £11.6 billion. An expected boom in the sector led VisitScotland and the Scottish Government to claim last year that the figure could double to £23.2 billion by 2025.
However, Mr Ewing said this could be stopped if Mr Cameron gets his way on EU free movement.
Mr Ewing said: “I am firmly against restricting free movement rights within the EU and the damaging impact that could have on tourism within Scotland.
“This is another example of Scotland’s distinct needs and unique opportunities being at best overlooked by Westminster and at worst disregarded.”
Tourism was “a key sector” for Scotland, he said.
A spokesman from VisitScotland declined to comment.