Ministers have taken legal advice to ensure measures to stop EU migrants claiming benefits for their first three months in the UK cannot be overturned by the courts, David Cameron revealed yesterday.
His remarks came after the European Commission said it was “too early to say” whether the measures are compliant with free movement rules.
The Prime Minister told MPs the new measures, which were rushed through Parliament yesterday, will ensure the three-month wait is in place by the time access restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers are lifted on 1 January.
Mr Cameron said: “We are taking these steps on the basis of legal advice and looking very carefully at what other countries in the EU do. I want to do everything possible to make sure the right of free movement is not abused. There is a right to work in different countries of the European Union but there shouldn’t be a right to claim in different countries of the European Union.”
When plans for the delay were announced last month, Downing Street said it was unlikely to be in place in time for the arrival of the first migrants on New Year’s Day.
But the restriction is now being brought forward to come into effect on the first day of 2014. From that point, migrants from other EU states will have to wait three months before claiming Jobseekers Allowance.
The European Commission warned it will be checking the legality of the changes. “It is too early to say whether the new rules are compliant,” said Jonathan Todd, spokesman for EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor.
“There is no evidence EU nationals go to other EU countries in order to claim benefits or that there is systematic abuse by EU nationals of other countries’ welfare systems. On the contrary, numerous studies show the vast majority of EU nationals go to other member states to work and they usually pay more in tax and social security contributions than they receive in benefits because more of them tend to be of working age compared with the population of the host country.”
Labour accused Mr Cameron of leaving the tabling of the regulations until the last minute before Parliament rises for its Christmas break today. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “Labour called for these benefit restrictions nine months ago. Yet David Cameron has left it until the very last minute to squeeze this change in.”
Other measures in Mr Cameron’s package include stopping housing benefit claims for EU job seekers and imposing a 12-month re-entry ban for people who have been removed for begging or sleeping rough.
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said today’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels will give Mr Cameron his “last chance” to act on Bulgarian and Romanian immigration. “He must tell fellow EU leaders that the UK will not unconditionally open its border to Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January,” said Mr Farage, who described the package as “gesture politics”.