Cameron seeks EU benefits ‘brake’ change

David Cameron walks past an EU flag in June 2015Image copyright

David Cameron will suggest changes to a proposed “emergency brake” on in-work benefits for EU migrants when he meets the European Council president later.

EU officials have suggested Britain could use the brake for up to four years, but would have to prove public services were under excessive strain.

It could be imposed within three months of the UK applying, if EU states agree.

But Mr Cameron will tell Donald Tusk he wants the brake in force straight after the EU referendum, with no time limit.

The pair are meeting at Downing Street to finalise a package of measures to put to EU leaders ahead of a summit, to be held from 18 to 19 February.

‘Stop gap’

As part of his attempts to renegotiate the UK’s membership of the EU, Mr Cameron had proposed denying in-work benefits to all EU migrants until they had been in the UK for four years.

He said stopping those migrants from claiming tax credits – income supplements paid to those in low-paid work – would reduce high levels of immigration to the UK.

Some Central European nations are against the plan however, saying it is discriminatory towards their citizens.

Media captionHow would the ’emergency brake’ work?

EU leaders rejected Mr Cameron’s plan and proposed the “emergency brake” as an alternative, to break the deadlock in the EU renegotiations.

The proposed brake, full details of which have not been confirmed, would allow any EU state to deny in-work benefits to new arrivals for up to four years – but only after proving services were under strain and securing the approval of a majority of other EU states.

Mr Cameron said the current proposal was “not good enough”.

He is expected to tell Mr Tusk the brake must come into force immediately after the UK’s referendum on EU membership, and must remain in place long enough to stem EU migration to the UK.

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The prime minister held a bilateral meeting with Mr Tusk in November

Mr Cameron will also say the brake should be seen only as a “stop gap” while a more permanent solution is found.

The PM will tell Mr Tusk he is prepared to delay the referendum, which has been promised by the end of 2017, until he is satisfied with the deal on offer.

As well as restricting access to benefits, Mr Cameron wants extra powers for national parliaments to block EU legislation, measures to protect non-euro states and exemption for Britain from the EU’s ambition for “ever-closer union”.

What are in-work benefits and who claims them?

The Department for Work and Pensions does not collect figures on the number of non-UK nationals claiming benefits at any given time.

But according to figures from the House of Commons published in November 2014, there were at the time 252,000 working families from the European Union claiming tax credits, the main type of in-work benefit.

Working tax credits are payments designed to top up the income of those in low-paid jobs and who work a minimum number of hours.

The report suggested there were also 48,000 single people from EU countries claiming tax credits.

Mr Cameron says he has already taken action to restrict access to out-of-work benefits for EU nationals and was confident of agreement on stopping them claiming child benefit for dependants living abroad.

Stephen Booth, co-director of thinktank Open Europe, which campaigns for reforms in the EU, said there were question marks over how the emergency brake would work – and who would control it.

He said: “If it’s felt that this brake is not under UK control, it’s questionable how much it’s worth.”

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has dismissed the proposals under discussion, saying they would not deter EU migrants from moving to the UK.

He said: “The progress isn’t very good, is it? We get an emergency brake that we have to ask permission to use.

“He will go to the summit in February like Oliver going up to the table and saying, ‘Please Sir, can we have some more concessions?’. It’s all pretty thin gruel.”

David Cameron’s four main aims for renegotiation

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  • Integration: Allowing Britain to opt out from the EU’s founding ambition to forge an “ever closer union” so it will not be drawn into further political integration
  • Benefits: Restricting access to in-work and out-of-work benefits to EU migrants. Specifically, ministers want to stop those coming to the UK from claiming certain benefits and housing until they have been resident for four years
  • Sovereignty: Giving greater powers to national parliaments to block EU legislation. The UK supports a “red card” system allowing member states to scrap, as well as veto, unwanted directives
  • Eurozone v the rest: Securing an explicit recognition that the euro is not the only currency of the European Union, to ensure countries outside the eurozone are not disadvantaged. The UK also wants safeguards that it will not have to contribute to eurozone bailouts

Referendum timeline: What will happen when?

Guide: All you need to know about the referendum

QA: What does Britain want from Europe?

More: BBC News EU referendum special

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