David Cameron is under pressure to extend the Government’s three-month ban on migrants claiming state benefits when they arrive in Britain.
Only three weeks after the Prime Minister announced his crackdown, Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, called for a two-year wait before new arrivals could claim social security.
Mr Johnson said that he backed immigration but had a “problem” with the free movement of workers in an expanded, 28-nation EU much bigger than the club Britain joined in 1973. He told LBC 97.3 radio: "We don't want to be slamming up the drawbridge being completely horrible to people. If you want to come and work here you can do that but there should be a period before which you can claim all benefits and it seems entirely reasonable to me that they should extend that to two years.”
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, went further by calling for a five-year ban on all permanent immigration. He said: “Let's be flexible on work permits, let's recognise that we do have some skills shortages in the British economy - which is very much a failure of our education system. But in terms of immigration, in terms of people coming to settle, I would suggest that for up to a five-year period we don't have people coming to settle until we sort out the mess."
The Ukip leader said migration to the UK should be reduced even if that harmed the economy. “I do think the social side of this matters more than pure market economics,” he said. “I would rather we weren’t slightly richer and…that we had communities that felt more united and a situation where young unemployed people had a realistic chance of getting a job.”
The two demands will fuel concern among moderate Conservatives that Mr Cameron will never satisfy his critics on immigration. They are worried that tough rhetoric will alienate centre ground voters and have urged the Prime Minister not to try to outbid Mr Farage on the issue because Ukip will always “move the goalposts.”
Downing Street played down the idea of Mr Cameron extending the three-month ban on benefit claims. “His approach is that we are doing all we can within the law,” said his spokesman.
Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, warned that the Tories’ target to reduce net migration to under 100,000 a year was “not sensible” because the Government could not control EU migration or the number of people choosing to leave the UK.
He told a BBC2 documentary, The Truth About Immigration on Tuesday: “Setting an arbitrary cap is not helpful, it almost certainly won't achieve the below 100,000 level the Conservatives have set anyway, so let's be practical about it."
Witold Sobków, Poland's ambassador to the UK, defended the right of Eastern Europeans to settle in Britain and warned Mr Cameron not to "stigmatise" his countrymen as benefit cheats when they came to Britain "to work hard, not to abuse the system or grab the benefits". Writing on the Huffington Post website, he said: "Why do foreigners come to the UK and want to work and settle down here? It is precisely because you are a great country. The free movement of people is a fundamental right guaranteed to EU citizens by the [EU] treaties."
Tory ministers insist that net migration has been reduced by a third since 2010. But their hopes of hitting their target suffered a big setback when official statistics showed that the figure rose to 182,000 in the year to last June, up from 167,000 the previous year. This followed a "significant" surge in people arriving from recession-hit EU countries such as Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain.