Cameron to review EU migration to UK
by Daniel Mason
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said his government might challenge the right of European Union migrants to live and work in the United Kingdom despite freedom of movement being one of the bloc's central pillars. He also pledged to block the EU's next long-term budget if it does not serve British national interests.
As the Conservative party conference got underway in Birmingham yesterday, Cameron told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I believe in free movement, but two weeks ago I visited two factories in a week, and I asked the question: 'How many people do you employ from other EU countries? What's the balance?' In one it was 60 per cent, in the other it was 50 per cent. Now, heavens above, we've got some many unemployed people in our country that we want to train and educate and give apprenticeships to and get back to work."
The UK government has already launched a review of the EU's competences and Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed in an interview with The Sunday Times that looking at freedom of movement would be part of the process. "We are looking at this whole area of the abuse of freedom of movement. But we will go further on this, and the issue of free movement will be part of the review," she said.
With transitional controls on migrants from the newest EU members, Bulgaria and Romania, due to expire at the end of next year, introducing visa requirements for migrants from some countries is thought to be being considered. Cameron's Conservatives have a policy of reducing net migration to below 100,000 by 2015 and the prime minister said it was "right" to include the freedom of movement directive in the review.
A spokesman for the European Commission, asked about the issue at a regular press briefing today, said: "This crops up from time to time in the UK political debate. The right to free movement of workers has existed in the treaty since 1957 and as far as I am aware the UK government has made no request to revise the treaty to change the right to free movement of workers, which is of enormous benefit to the European economy and to the British economy." He added that many UK workers are employed elsewhere in the EU under the same rules.
Meanwhile Cameron said he would block the EU's long-term budget for 2014 to 2020, which is currently being negotiated, if "massive increases" were proposed or if he believed it was against British interests. The European Commission has put forward plans for a €1 trillion budget and has the backing of the European Parliament, but some member states have called for a cut in recognition of the austerity being enforced throughout Europe.
"They know I'm capable of saying no and if I don't get a good deal I'll say no again," Cameron told the BBC, referring to his decision last December not to sign the UK up to the fiscal compact treaty, which was signed by 25 other EU member states to limit debts and deficits. The prime minister raised the prospect of creating two separate budgets for the EU and the eurozone. "There will come a time I believe when where you're going to need to have two European budgets – one for the single currency, because they're going to have to support each other much more, and perhaps a wider budget for everybody else," he said.
At the same time as seeking to reassure Eurosceptic Conservatives, who have pressured him to take a more hardline stance on Europe, Cameron dismissed the challenge of UKIP, which favours complete withdrawal from the EU, describing that party as a "complete waste of time". But UKIP leader Nigel Farage hit back, calling the prime minister's ideas "confused". "His claims to be able to change the EU rules on freedom of movement will be derided by anybody who knows how the EU works," Farage added.
Cameron also recevied short shrift from from The People's Pledge, a group campaigning for an in or out referendum, for his promise to seek "new consent" for a new deal for Britain in the EU – either in a popular vote or at a general election but probably not with a simple yes or no choice. "David Cameron should have learned by now that diluting the choice offered to people across Britain of how they can participate in shaping our relationship with Europe will not endear him to the wider public," said group spokesman Mark Seddon.
Richard Ashworth, leader of the Conservative party in the European parliament, backed Cameron in adopting a "particularly robust" stance on the EU. In an article for the PoliticsHome website, he wrote that the prime minister should "not be afraid to use the British veto to reinforce our position". He claimed Europe needed the "vision and leadership" of the British Conservatives "more than ever before".
But Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialists and Democrats in parliament, said: "The British prime minister should stop his continuous attacks on Europe. It is in the interests of the UK and all European countries to work together in a globalised world. His weakness under pressure from the anti-European, right-wing of his party and his fear of losing votes to UKIP should not lead him to oppose every European policy, however reasonable."
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The impact of all these people coming here has been devastating. We are sick and tired of it. Having countries with compatible minimum wage and social security has never been a problem. Having a country with a much lower standard of living all of a sudden having access to the jobs market of richer countries equals complete and utter insanity. Our towns and cities have been overwhelmed.
Mark Thompson - Wellingborough, England
Mr Cameron should be asking - why do those two factories have such a high level of non-Brits working there? He'll probably find that part of the answer is that some unemployed Brits dont want to work in factories.
Jamez Frondeskias - Australia