EU referendum: Immigration row brews ahead of key UK-EU talks

BELGIUM-EU-SUMMIT
David Cameron wil meet Brussels this week (Source: Getty)

Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of a crucial two-day meeting with European leaders this week.

Cameron’s efforts to reform Britain’s relationship with the European Union are expected to come into sharp focus in Brussels on Thursday at the European Council, where leaders from all 28 member states are scheduled to discuss the reform proposals Cameron has put forward at a working dinner.

The UK government’s plan to restrict welfare benefits for European migrants living in Britain is widely expected to generate disagreement among the leaders, many of whom have already said they oppose the idea. Just last week, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said she and Cameron did not see “eye-to-eye” on the issue.

The government has proposed that EU migrants would have to live for four years in the UK before claiming in-work benefits. But Cameron has repeatedly indicated that he is willing to consider alternative policies targeted at bringing down net migration.

A government source told the Press Association yesterday that “what matters most is to fix the problems not the precise form of the arrangements”.

“On welfare, he will aim to unlock the political will necessary to find a solution, effectively giving the green light to officials to work up a solution that would both deliver on the Prime Minister’s objective of better controlling migration from the EU while also being acceptable to all.”

Several reports over the weekend suggested the approach would amount to a “climbdown” from Cameron. But Downing Street dismissed the claims yesterday, with a spokesperson saying: “This is simply not true.”

“As the PM said in his Chatham House speech several weeks ago: ‘I am open to different ways of dealing with this issue.’”

Eurosceptic groups, meanwhile, hit out at Downing Street. Robert Oxley, a spokesman for Vote Leave, said: “Downing Street is engaged in a game of expectation management so when it does secure a relatively minor victory, it can try and claim our relationship is changing significantly when it is not.”

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