DAVID Cameron has pledged to stop new arrivals from the EU claiming out-of-work benefits for three months as he seeks to allay fears over easing controls on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants.
The Prime Minister set out plans to tweak welfare rules as he admitted he shared concerns on Tory benches about the end of transitional restrictions for the latest member states next year.
He also demanded wider EU reforms for the future - suggesting labour movement from countries joining the EU could be limited until they hit a certain level of GDP per head.
The intervention, in an article for the Financial Times, comes amid calls from dozens of Conservative MPs for the Government to ignore European law and extend controls on Romania and Bulgaria until 2018.
Mr Cameron said Labour’s failure to keep tougher limits on countries such as Poland in 2004 had been a “monumental mistake”, and he “shared concerns” about what would happen after January 1.
“We are changing the rules so that no one can come to this country and expect to get out of work benefits immediately; we will not pay them for the first three months,” he said.
“If after three months an EU national needs benefits - we will no longer pay these indefinitely. They will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment.
“We are also toughening up the test which migrants who want to claim benefits must undergo.
“This will include a new minimum earnings threshold. If they don’t pass the test, we’ll cut off access to benefits such as income support. Newly arrived EU jobseekers will not be able to claim housing benefit.”
Deportation for homeless migrants
Downing Street aides said currently some immigrants could access Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) within a month of arrival in the UK.
Mr Cameron said migrants found begging or sleeping rough could be deported.
“They will then be barred from re-entry for 12 months, unless they can prove they have a proper reason to be here, such as a job,” he added.
Firms that pay less than the minimum wage will face fines of up to £20,000 in a bid to prevent undercutting of British workers.
Spelling out his approach if the Tories win the 2015 election, Mr Cameron went on: “We need to face the fact that free movement has become a trigger for vast population movements caused by huge disparities in income.
“That is extracting talent out of countries that need to retain their best people and placing pressure on communities.
“It is time for a new settlement which recognises that free movement is a central principle of the EU, but it cannot be a completely unqualified one.
“We are not the only country to see free movement as a qualified right: interior ministers from Austria, Germany and the Netherlands have also said this to the Commission.
“So Britain, as part of our plan to reform the EU, will now work with others to return the concept of free movement to a more sensible basis.
“And we need to do the same with welfare. For example, free movement shouldn’t be about exporting child benefit - I want to work with our European partners to address this.”
Lib Dems back plans
The premier said one option would be to “require a new country to reach a certain share of average EU GDP per head before full free movement was allowed”.
He added: “Individual member states could be freed to impose a cap if their inflow from the EU reached a certain number in a single year.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted his Liberal Democrats were fully signed up to the rule changes - although senior sources stressed that the post-2015 ideas had not been agreed. “These are sensible and reasonable reforms to ensure that the right to work does not automatically mean the right to claim,” Mr Clegg said.
“Other countries in the EU already have similar policies and are considering the case for going further - unfettered access to benefits across the member states simply does not exist.
“Anyone who believes we are better off as an outward facing nation should support these changes. If we don’t get to grips with these issues, pro-Europeans surrender the debate to the UKIPs of this world.”