'I'll see you in court': Works and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith vows Britain will fight Europe over welfare benefits for immigrants

 

Brussels

The European Commission has signalled an imminent legal war with the UK government over the rights of EU migrants to welfare benefits in Britain.

Describing two years of negotiations with Britain as a 'dialogue with the deaf', the Commission claims there are potentially “tens of thousands” of EU nationals living legally in the UK who are being refused benefits they are entitled to.

It says the UK’s “right-to-reside” test, where migrants have to prove they are employed or actively looking for work before receiving welfare payments, is an illegal form  of “discrimination” under EU rules and should be scrapped.

The opening shot in this new battle with Brussels was fired by the  Works and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith who told the European Commission he will “see them in court”.

The attempt to outlaw the right-to-reside test is being seen by the Department of Works and Pensions as a threat to the way the UK has tried to combat “benefit tourism”. The government is adamant that the test is a “vital and fair tool” to aid decisions that ensure benefits are paid only to people legally allowed to live in the UK.

Mr Duncan Smith forcefully indicated that he intended to fight the Commission “every step of the way” and accused Brussels of engaging in a “blatant land grab” against a national government.

He told the BBC: “The Commission are trying to use freedom of movement as a way to start controlling what national governments [within the EU]  do about those who are not in work in their countries.”

He said he would not stand by while the EU tried to “water down the valuable protections we have put in place”.

Labour, who introduced the residence test, and who are wary of being out-manoeuvred by the government on immigration issues, backed  the hard-line stance of the works and pensions secretary.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, said UK courts had consistently upheld the attempts to prevent abuse in the benefits system. She said: “Labour has called on the government to strengthen the residence test, not weaken it.”

She said the EU were “wrong”  in trying to prevent a member state keeping a “sensible test” and the legal action could “increase public concerns about migration”.

Brussels however appear clear in their desire to outlaw the test. If the Commission is successful in court,  the UK welfare bill is likely to rise by around £155m a year. 

Jonathan Todd, the Commission’s spokesman for employment, social affairs and inclusion, denied there was an link between the payment and “benefits tourism”.

He said: “Potentially tens of thousands of EU nationals living legally in the UK have been refused access to social security payments to which they are entitled. We cannot apply different rules to the UK that we apply to 26 other member states.”

Still facing significant back-bench revolt over Britain’s relationship with the European Union, a lengthy and drawn out legal battle with Brussels over rules governing immigrants and welfare entitlement is the last thing David Cameron needs at the moment.

Peter Lilley, the former social security minister, and currently a member of Mr Cameron’s policy board, said the threat from the Commission – which he said flew in the face of its own rules – would “strengthen the case for David Cameron seeking to get power back to this country to make our own laws rather than allowing this creeping competence of law-making being extended to Brussels.”

Tory backbenchers, still unhappy about Downing Street failure to include the promised In-Out referendum on EU membership in the Queen’s Speech, rounded on the legal intervention by Brussels.

Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes, said: “Eurocracy has lost touch with reality. We cannot and must not pay benefits to all EU citizens who set foot in the UK.”

Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage, described Mr Duncan Smith’s promise not to cave-in as “bold” but said it would be “in vain” because “there is already a very long and expensive trail of clear evidence that in a Britain versus EU fight, we just don’t win.”

The legal battle

Brussels are essentially unhappy about the way Britain treats EU nationals who are neither in work or looking for work.  If someone from an EU member state comes to the United Kingdom to find a job, or already have a job, they satisfy the right-to-reside element of the habitual residence test and are therefore entitled to benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefit and Child Benefit.

What they not entitled to is 'inactive benefits'. These are  benefits for people who are not  looking for work, which includes sickness benefits (now called Employment and Support Allowance) and Income Support.

If an EU migrant is not looking for work, they will not satisfy key elements of the residence test.  Brussels maintains that as this test specifically applies only to EU foreign nationals, Britain is not abiding by one of the fundamental rules of the EU governing equality in labour markets.

Britain sees this in different terms, believing that migrants should not come to the UK  just to claim benefits without looking for a job.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Renewable Energy Construction Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices