EU referendum: Benefits brake could boost numbers of EU migrants, Tory MP David Davis warns

Mr Davis warns proposed curbs on benefits could act as an incentive to workers to head to UK before mechanism could be implemented

Oliver Wright
Political Editor
Sunday 07 February 2016 19:49
Both sides of the debate invoked the memory of Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1989, to back their position
Both sides of the debate invoked the memory of Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1989, to back their position

David Cameron’s plan for an “emergency brake” to curb benefit payments to European Union migrants could lead to a short-term surge in the number of EU workers coming to the UK, a senior Tory critic has warned.

Under proposals being put forward for the “emergency brake” by the European Commission, it could take up to 12 months for the plan to come into effect following a successful “remain” vote in the referendum. As a consequence, the former Europe minister David Davis warned, the proposed curbs on benefits could act as an incentive to workers to head to the UK before the mechanism could be implemented.

Mr Davis’s comments come as a new poll suggests the vast majority of Conservative grassroots activists are opposed to the renegotiation plan while senior Eurosceptics in the Cabinet have privately expressed frustration at their inability to speak out.

The poll, by the Conservative Home website, found 71 per cent of activists were more likely to vote to leave Europe because of what they had heard about the renegotiation plan with only 13 per cent more likely to stay.

Mr Davis said that the proposed benefits ban was already getting extensive coverage in Eastern European media which was likely to encourage migrants to come to Britain before the tougher rules were implemented.

“The so-called emergency brake that the Prime Minister is attempting to negotiate with Brussels is very likely to increase the number of people migrating into the UK in the coming year,” he said. “Eastern European newspapers have carried numerous stories about in-work benefits and the plans to terminate them for the first four years after a migrant’s arrival in the UK

“Under such circumstances the incentive for anybody wishing to come to live in the UK will be to come as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile the Work and Pension Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has privately suggested that the emergency brake was “a load of rubbish” because the rules would apply only to new arrivals in Britain and the UK did not record who came and went.

“How do you define a new entrant?” he is said to have remarked. “You can’t.”

Meanwhile both sides in the debate attempted to harness the power of the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to garner support for their position. Lord Powell of Bayswater, Baroness Thatcher’s former private secretary and foreign affairs adviser, used a Sunday Times article to say that although the Iron Lady might have “raged more mightily” at Brussels than Mr Cameron, “she would have gone along with what is on offer, indeed negotiated something similar herself”.

“Margaret Thatcher’s heart was never in our member her head would continue to favour staying in on the conditions now on offer.”

However another former Thatcher colleague Norman Tebbit rejected this. “I think I knew her better than he did,” he said. “I recollect her words at the dispatch box on the [Jacques] Delors plan for Europe, which remains the policy of the Commission and the European Parliament.

“Her words were to each of the proposals: ‘No, no, no.’ I think it more likely that, were she alive, then she would be saying: ‘No, no, no.’”

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