Defiant Tory leaders dig in over EU immigration

THE Conservative Party leadership has dug its heels in over its hopes to renegotiate free movement of labour in the European Union, despite a spokesman for German chancellor Angela ­Merkel confirming that she will oppose the proposal.
George Osborne: Germany understands UKs EU unease. Picture: PAGeorge Osborne: Germany understands UKs EU unease. Picture: PA
George Osborne: Germany understands UKs EU unease. Picture: PA

The intervention by Europe’s leading head of government is a major blow to David Cameron’s hopes to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU after he put internal European immigration at the heart of his proposals in his party conference speech last month.

However, Chancellor George Osborne insisted that the Germans understand the UK’s “disquiet” over immigration within the EU, and a Downing Street spokesman has confirmed that Mr Cameron will be laying out his proposals in another major speech in the coming weeks.

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The speech – which is being billed as “a game changer” – will come before Christmas, but after the crucial Rochester and Strood by-election on 20 November, where Mark Reckless, the constituency’s Tory MP until his defection to Ukip at the end of September, is aiming to win the seat for Nigel Farage’s party.

Defeat in the by-election will fuel concerns that Tory voters are deserting the party over Europe and put further pressure on Mr Cameron’s leadership.

The latest of Lord Ashcroft’s opinion polls on general election voting intent, released yesterday, showed that the Tories remain one percentage point ahead of Labour, though both parties saw a slight drop from the previous week’s data.

Meanwhile, Mrs Merkel’s spokesman indicated that Germany is willing to negotiate on areas including benefit fraud and welfare tourism, but not on the principle of freedom of movement within the EU.

Steffen Seibert said: “We, the German government, want Britain to be engaged and have an active role in a strong EU. Chancellor Merkel has stressed that very clearly in the past.”

He added that Germany would continue to work with the UK “where they have common interests”.


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However, Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith – one of the party’s leading eurosceptics – said ministers had discussed with their EU counterparts proposals to make migrants contribute in a country before they are able to claim some benefits.

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He said: “They all pretty much agree that essentially the system has gone wrong and that countries should be able to insist on some form of contribution for a period of time, it’s just that which has not been finally agreed.”

Asked if the principle of freedom of movement needed to be looked at, Mr Duncan Smith said: “All I know is that the work that we’ve done is to get rid of the ‘pull factor’.”

Elsewhere, Mr Osborne insisted that Berlin understands UK voters’ “disquiet” over immigration.

He said: “We have had good discussions with the Germans; I was in Berlin just a few days ago myself. They understand the disquiet that is caused among British people when you have people coming in from other parts of Europe here, to claim our benefits, who don’t necessarily have jobs to go to.”

But Mr Farage insisted that his experience of Brussels politics suggests that “the Germans don’t bluff” and claimed that Mrs Merkel would prefer a British exit to a renegotiation of EU treaties.

Labour MP Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “These comments by a German government spokesperson reveal that David Cameron is both losing influence and losing allies in Europe.

“His weakness within his own party means he now risks pushing Britain towards exit from Europe altogether.

“The right road for Britain is reform within Europe, not exit from Europe.”


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