Cameron spelled out new details of his top demands, including major changes to welfare benefits for EU migrants in the UK, in a speech in central London yesterday morning.
But soon after a European Commission spokesman said the Prime Minister’s proposals to restrict benefits were “highly problematic” because they affected the “fundamental freedoms of our internal market” and represented “direct discrimination between EU citizens”. Cameron’s other suggestions ranged from “difficult to worse”, the spokesman said.
Cameron said in his speech – as well as a public letter sent to President of European Council Donald Tusk – that he has four objectives “at the heart” of his renegotiation efforts, including protecting the single market for non-Eurozone countries, boosting competitiveness of the entire EU, enacting “legally binding and irreversible changes” exempting Britain from the notion of “ever-closer union” while bolstering the powers of national parliaments, and controlling migration from other EU member states.
Cameron said that under the government’s proposals, people coming to the UK from the EU will be required to live and work in Britain for four years before qualifying for in-work benefits or social housing.
Cameron added that he understood “how difficult some of these welfare issues are for other member states” and said he was “open to different ways of dealing with this issue”.
Meanwhile, Eurosceptic Tory MPs dismissed Cameron’s suggestions for being unambitious rather than overreaching. Jacob Rees-Mogg said Cameron had set out “pretty thin gruel” that would make “Harold Wilson's negotiation look acceptable”. Bill Cash dismissed the demands as a “pig in a poke”, while Bernard Jenkin asked: “Is that it?”