THE UK government has signalled that it wants to change the rules of EU membership, meaning that migrants coming to the UK from other member states have to wait two years before they can claim benefits.
The proposal was mooted by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith yesterday and received backing from Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
However, divisions over Europe between the two coalition parties came to the fore over a demand by 92 Tory MPs for Westminster to have a red card to veto EU legislation, a move Mr Clegg described as “a race to the bottom” with Ukip.
In an interview with a Sunday newspaper, Mr Duncan Smith said he would like EU immigrants to have to wait for up to two years to claim benefits – rather than the three-month period that was introduced on 1 January. He said he had been speaking to other member states, such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, which were supportive of the move.
Britain should ask migrants to “demonstrate that you are committed to the country, that you are a resident and that you are here for a period of time and you are generally taking work and that you are contributing”.
He added: “At that particular point it could be a year, it could be two years, after that, then we will consider you a resident of the UK and be happy to pay you benefits.”
Sources close to Mr Duncan Smith stressed that he was merely expressing an aspiration for the future, rather than spelling out a policy.
Mr Clegg said: “It is eminently sensible to say that, if we can come to an agreement that says you have to jump through certain hoops before you can claim benefits having moved to another European country.”
But he warned there was a danger of tit-for-tat changes unless the plans were agreed with other nations. “The idea that somehow we can apply new criteria to Germans, Finns, Dutch, Austrians you name it, but somehow no new conditions would apply to Brits living in other European Union countries is fanciful,” he said.
The Liberal Democrat leader added: “We now have two parties – the UK Independence Party and the Conservative Party – locked in this sort of deathly embrace, this fight to the finish, and my concern is that actually what ends up happening is that they argue with themselves and they ratchet up the rhetoric in ever more breathless terms against the European Union and our place in it.
“Of course, what ends up happening is that you get a race to the bottom.
“You get a drift towards the exit and that then jeopardises millions of jobs in this country.”