David Cameron has beat a retreat over Tory plans for Britain to impose a cap on numbers of European Union migrant workers in response to soaring levels of immigration, confounding hopes among many of his backbench MPs.
The Prime Minister announced an array of moves for stopping EU migrants from claiming benefits, but while attention was still focused on those moves he backed off from a confrontation with his counterparts on the Continent over proposals to introduce a quota system for migrants.
His plans, set out in a long-awaited speech that Mr Cameron’s allies hoped would be a “game-changer”, received a mixed reception from Eurosceptic backbenchers who had been pressing for a tougher stance with Brussels. The Conservatives had previously floated the idea of restricting the number of EU nationals allowed to work in Britain – a so-called “emergency brake” – and ministers had discussed it with EU counterparts. But it was conspicuously absent from his remarks yesterday, in the face of opposition from other European capitals.
Mr Cameron spoke to the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who is known to be one of many EU leaders who are staunchly opposed to diluting the principle of freedom of movement – ahead of the speech.
The idea of a cap was aired this month by the former Prime Minister Sir John Major, who had suggested introducing a limit on migrant numbers for a “shortish” period of around a year. Instead Mr Cameron said he supported the principle of freedom of movement across the Union – although he believed it could be reformed – and said a brake would be an “arcane mechanism in the EU that would be triggered by the EU Commission and not by us”.
The Prime Minister put his emphasis on introducing stringent welfare restrictions as a way of reducing the “pull-factor” attracting migrants to Britain.
He outlined proposals, to be included in next year’s Tory election manifesto, to ban migrants from receiving in-work benefits such as tax credits for four years and to stop jobless migrants qualifying for unemployment benefits. Those who cannot find a job within six months would be required to leave the country, he said.
10 things immigration has done for Britain
10 things immigration has done for Britain
1/10 The Mini
The 1959 classic, that is, perhaps our greatest piece of industrial design, a miracle of packaging and revolution in motoring. Its genius designer was Sir Alec Issigonis, who was an asylum seeker. His family, Greek, fled Smyrna when Turks invaded this borderland in around 1920, and he wound up studying engineering at Battersea Polytechnic. He went on to create that most English of motor cars, the Morris Minor, as well as the Austin-Morris 1100, all much loved products of his fertile imagination.
2/10 Marks and Spencer
Once upon a time there was no M&S in Britain, difficult as that may be to believe. We have one Michael Marks to thank for our most famous retailer, and he was a refugee from Belarus, arriving in England in about 1882, and soon after set off to flog stuff around Yorkshire. He eventually teamed with Thomas Spencer to create the vast business we know today.
And many other TV shows created, funded and otherwise produced by that largest of larger-than-life characters, Lew Grade (also a world class tap dancer). The man who dominated commercial television gave us memorable entertainment such as The Prisoner, the Saint and brought the Muppets to Britain (a sort of fuzzy felt wave of immigration), as well as puppet shows where you could see the strings. All this from a penniless Jew from Ukraine, born Lev Winogradsky, who escaped the pogroms in Ukraine with his family in the 1890s. His nephew Michael Grade has also done his bit for British television.
4/10 The House of Windsor
Or the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until George V prudently rebranded the family during the First World War. Well, our royals are a pretty German bunch, as well as having various types of French and other alien blue blood coursing around their veins. ‘Twas ever thus. There was William the Conqueror, Norman French, who certainly broke the immigration rules; William of Orange, a direct import from Holland; the Hanoverian King Georges, the first barely able to speak English; Queen Victoria, who married a German, Edward VII, who couldn’t stay faithful to his wife, a Danish princess; George V wed another German princess; Edward VIII married an American (though she hardly visited England and prompted his emigration and exile); and the Queen is married to man born in Corfu. The embodiment of the British nation, to many, but one thinks of them as quite multicultural really.
5/10 I Vow To Thee My Country
Our most patriotic hymn was the product of a man named Gustav Holst (pictured), born in Cheltenham, but of varied Swedish, Latvian and German ancestry, who adapted part of his suite The Planets to put a particularly stirring and beautiful poem to music, just after the Great War. As the second verse has it, “there's another country/I've heard of long ago/Most dear to them that love her/most great to them that know”. Imagine if the Holst family had been kept out because the quota on musical European types had been reached.
6/10 Curry and Cobra
Chicken Tikka Masala is, so they say, a dish which not only the most popular in Britain but specifically designed to cater for European tastes. For that we probably have to thank an Indian migrant, Sake Dean Mahomed, who came from Bengal to open the first recognisable Indian restaurant, the magnificently named “Hindoostanee Coffee House”. History does not record if a plate of poppadoms and accompanying selection of pickles and yoghurts were routinely placed on the table for new diners, but we do know that we had to wait until 1989 to taste the ideal lager for a curry - Cobra. That brew was brought to us by Karan (now Lord) Bilimoria, a Cambridge law graduate who hailed from Hyderabad.
7/10 That big red swirly sculpture at the Olympic Park
Or Orbit, to give it its proper name, the work of Anish Kapoor, who arrived in 1973 from India and had the artistic imagination to fill a power station.
8/10 The Sun
Love it or hate it, and many do both, this has been a symbol of much that is successful and a lot that is awful in British journalism since its inception in 1969. In its turn it spawned the Page 3 Girl and some nastily xenophobic headlines. All the stranger when you consider its creator was, of course, Rupert Murdoch, born 11 March 1931 in Melbourne, Australia.
OK, Karl Marx’s philosophy was not much of a gift to the world, but for a while it seemed like a good idea. Though we might not dare admit it, Marxism still has a few insights to offer to anyone wanting to understand the workings of capitalism, though too few to excuse everything that was done in its name. Born in Germany spent much time in the British museum and the British pub, buried Highgate Cemetery. Oddly, his ideas never really caught on in his adopted homeland.
10/10 The NHS
They came from many, many backgrounds, including Ireland, the Philippines, east Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, as they still do, but the contribution of the black nurses who came to the UK from the Caribbean to heal and care for is a debt of honour that must be recognised. It so sometimes forgotten that it was Enoch Powell, then Minister of Health (1960-62), who campaigned to recruit their skilled nurses to come and work over here. One abiding legacy we can thank Enoch for.
The moves would give Britain the “toughest system” in Europe on migrant benefits, he said. But he warned the shake-up would require “hard pounding” to win over other EU leaders and acknowledged that some moves would require treaty changes.
Mr Cameron said more than 400,000 EU migrants received tax credits and other welfare payments which could be worth £700 a month to a couple with two children.
“Removing that economic incentive is the most powerful thing we can do to reduce levels of migration back to what the British people and I want to see,” he argued. Mr Cameron said his aim was to introduce pan-EU reforms, but he was ready to implement them in Britain alone if he did not gain support.
Ukip, which came under heavy attack from Mr Cameron yesterday, accused him of deceiving voters on the issue. Nigel Farage, the party’s leader, said: “He cannot control immigration from the EU and has dropped his suggestions of a cap or an emergency brake on numbers coming in.”
The Conservative MP for Amber Valley, Nigel Mills, said: “I think the message we needed was that we would put an absolute cap on it because we have too many people coming. The only comprehensible way of stopping that is to say: ‘Look, here’s how many we are prepared to take each year’.”
The veteran Tory Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash said: “Unfortunately, I don’t think it goes far enough, and the question really turns on the existing European rules and the treaties. Without actually dealing with that question, it is not going to be possible to deal with the problem as effectively as it could be.”
In his speech, delivered at a JCB factory in Staffordshire, Mr Cameron emphasised the value to Britain of EU membership, insisting he believed he could succeed in wresting powers back to this country from Brussels.
But he also signalled he was prepared to argue for Britain to leave the Union as a last resort if other member states resisted his plans to cut benefits to migrants.
“If our concerns fall on deaf ears and we cannot put our relationship with the EU on a better footing, then of course I rule nothing out. But I am confident that we can and will succeed.”
And although he did not refer to Ukip by name, he clearly had the anti-EU party in his sights as he warned politicians to take care over the language they used about immigration.
“We must anchor the debate in fact, not prejudice. We must have no truck with those who use immigration to foment division. We should distrust those who sell the snake-oil of simple solutions.”
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said some of Mr Cameron’s ideas were “sensible and workable”. But he added: “There are some very serious questions about whether others will ever really happen in practice and whether they are deliverable.”
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said: “David Cameron is a busted flush on immigration. He has broken his promises to the public and made false promises to his party.”
A spokesman for Mr Juncker, said: “These are UK ideas and they are part of the debate. They will have to be examined without drama and should be discussed calmly and carefully.”
Battle of Britain: Czechs fight back
David Cameron’s pledge to ban immigrants from claiming benefits has prompted an acerbic response from a Czech minister.
Tomas Prouza, the Czech Republic’s Secretary of State for Europe, posted a picture of Czech fighter pilots who fought in the RAF in the Second World War. He said: “These Czechs ‘worked’ in the UK for less than four years. No benefits for them?”
Czech fighter pilots earned a reputation during the war for being immensely brave.
Where the parties stand...
Migrants should be barred from claiming in-work benefits such as tax credits and housing benefit for four years. They should also only be entitled to social housing after four years’ residence.
Jobless EU nationals should lose any entitlement to out-of-work benefits including the new Universal Credit and be required to leave Britain after six months of seeking work.
Payment of child benefit to youngsters living abroad should be scrapped. Tougher rules on EU nationals bringing in partners from outside the union should be introduced.
The moves would reduce the economic “pull-factor” drawing migrants to the UK.
In-work benefits should only be paid to migrants after two years instead of three months, while jobless EU nationals should have to wait two years before claiming jobless benefits. The “absurdity” of child benefit and child tax credits being claimed for youngsters overseas should end.
In a “concrete plan” to stop employers relying on low-cost foreign employees, a ban should be imposed on employment agencies which only recruit abroad and the minimum wage should be enforced more strongly.
Migrants who do not speak fluent English should be barred from some public-sector jobs.
Migrants should only receive Universal Credit once they have worked for six months – and then only for six months. In-work benefits should only be paid to migrants working the equivalent of a 35-hour week on the minimum wage.
Child benefit for youngsters living abroad should be cut (as a first step to paying the rate where the child lives).
Tough re-entry bans on migrants involved in identity or benefit fraud should be considered, but otherwise the principle of freedom of movement should not be threatened.
Migrants should only qualify for benefits – in or out of work – if they have paid tax and National Insurance for five years and be entitled to permanent residence after 10 years. People whose “parents and grandparents were born locally” should have social housing priority.
Other parties’ proposals to cut migrants’ benefits could run into opposition (and legal action) in Brussels, which is a further reason for leaving the EU and taking control of Britain’s borders.Reuse content