Could Cameron’s pledge for tougher action on immigrant welfare push Britain to an EU exit?

Cameron has pledged tougher action on immigration (Source: Getty)

Alisdair McIntosh is director of Business for New Europe, says Yes.

David Cameron is right to recognise the value of EU membership to the economy, but his policies raise concerns. Free movement of people is fundamental to the EU, and large-scale changes may prove impossible.

Some of his proposals, like barring migrants from in-work benefits for four years and expelling jobless migrants after six months, would require treaty change, and 27 other countries would need to agree. Some would need referendums. Even if national leaders like Angela Merkel want to help, there’s no guarantee that their parliaments and peoples will play ball.

Cameron says he will “rule nothing out” if he doesn’t get what he wants. But if he sets the bar for renegotiation impossibly high, and fails to clear it, the British people could lose confidence in the EU. There is willingness in Europe to engage with the UK on restricting access to benefits. But we mustn’t jeopardise that by running an immigration arms race.

Pawel Swidlicki is a research analyst at Open Europe, says No.

Immigration is a contentious issue, which in recent times has become strongly linked with the broader EU debate. If not addressed, it could push the UK towards the exit door. For this reason, the Prime Minister’s carefully calibrated speech struck the right balance between preserving the benefits of free movement for the UK economy, while ensuring that the system is fair – and seen to be fair – for the British public.

While EU migrants on the whole pay more into the system than they take out, migrants on low wages can be eligible for very generous in-work benefits from the outset – an effective taxpayer-backed subsidy which does not exist to the same extent elsewhere in Europe.

Although implementing the changes will require changes to EU rules and tough negotiations, this is achievable as the principle of free movement will be kept intact. With the reforms in place, the British public will be more likely to vote to stay in the EU.

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