The British Government is within its rights to restrict benefits to some EU migrants, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
In a move that will be greeted with profound relief by David Cameron and the Remain campaign, the court threw out a challenge by the European Commission to the Government’s benefits crackdown.
The Commission had argued that the UK's decision to restrict payment – such as child benefit and tax credits – to migrants who were "economically inactive" on the grounds that they did not have the right to live in the UK was discriminatory.
However, the court agreed with the British Government’s position that it was lawful for the UK to withhold benefits to migrants if they did not have the right to reside in the UK.
Such "unequal treatment" was justified on the basis of "protecting a member state's finances", the court ruled.
It concluded: "There is nothing to prevent the grant of social benefits to EU citizens who are not economically active being made subject to the requirement that those citizens fulfil the conditions for possessing a right to reside lawfully in the host member state."
The ruling means EU citizens who have been in the UK for less than five years are not entitled to welfare benefits if they (and their family members) are not economically active and not able to support themselves.
What has the EU ever done for us?
What has the EU ever done for us?
1/7 1. It gives you freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe
As a member of the EU, UK citizens benefit from freedom of movement across the continent. Considered one of the so-called four pillars of the European Union, this freedom allows all EU citizens to live, work and travel in other member states.
2/7 2. It sustains millions of jobs
A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, released in October 2015, suggested 3.1 million British jobs were linked to the UK’s exports to the EU.
3/7 3. Your holiday is much easier - and safer
Freedom to travel is one of the most exercised benefits of EU membership, with Britons having made 31 million visits to the EU in 2014 alone. But a lot of the benefits of being an EU citizen are either taken for granted or go unnoticed.
4/7 4. It means you're less likely to get ripped off
Consumer protection is a key benefit of the EU’s single market, and ensures members of the British public receive equal consumer rights when shopping anywhere in Europe.
5/7 5. It offers greater protection from terrorists, paedophiles, people traffickers and cyber-crime
Another example of a lesser-known advantage of EU membership is the benefit of cross-country coordination and cooperation in the fight against crime.
6/7 6. Our businesses depend on it
According to 71% of all members of the Confederation of British Influence (CBI), and 67 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the EU has had an overall positive impact on their business.
7/7 7. We have greater influence
Robin Niblett, Director of think-tank Chatham House, stated in a report published last year: “For a mid-sized country like the UK, which will never again be economically dominant either globally or regionally, and whose diplomatic and military resources are declining in relative terms, being a major player in a strong regional institution can offer a critical lever for international influence.
The ruling is important because it strengthens the argument of Remain campaigners that the future reforms to free movement and welfare rules – as agreed in the EU renegotiation – will not be rolled back by the EU court.
However, for the Leave campaign, the judgment also reminds voters that aspects of the UK’s welfare system are subject to EU law.
Marley Morris, Research Fellow at the IPPR think tank, said the ruling was a sign that the court was more prepared to give national government freedom to interpret European treaties.
“This decision by the European Court of Justice is another sign – on top of other recent judgments – that it is becoming more sympathetic to the UK’s interpretation of free-movement rules,” he said.
“But there are no guarantees this will last forever, and future judgments may go against the UK. Conversely, a vote for Brexit on 23 June is likely to create its own legal quagmire, as the subsequent negotiations will have to resolve the free movement rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK, and UK citizens currently living in other EU countries, in a fair and consistent way.”Reuse content