European Court of Justice: UK should not have to pay EU migrants family benefits

Emma Haslett
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The ECJ said a "right to reside" test for family benefits was legitimate (Source: Getty)

One of Europe's highest courts has backed the UK in a case brought against it over welfare benefits for EU migrants.

In a judgment today, the European Court of Justice said the UK's "right to reside" test for certain family benefits was legitimate, after the European Commission brought a case against it arguing that it discriminates against child migrants.

But the court said the test doesn't constitute differential treatment between UK citizens and EU migrants - in fact, it said it was justified to protect the UK's public finances.

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With just days to go before the EU referendum (and Vote Leave taking an increasing lead), the judgement is likely to be seized upon by both sides of the argument.

"On the one hand, the judgement shows that the EU’s free movement rules do not prevent member states from taking action to block access to benefits for migrants who have been in the UK for less than five years and are not economically active and cannot support themselves," said the Institute for Public Policy Research.

"It also strengthens the argument that the future reforms to free movement and welfare rules – as agreed in the EU renegotiation – will not be rolled back by the EU court.

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"This is a victory for the UK and for common sense," added MEP Anthea McIntye, Conservative employment spokesperson in the European Parliament.

"It vindicates the Prime Minister's stance, which has always been that free movement means freedom to work, not to claim benefits.

"The Commission may have attempted to dictate to Britain, but it has been put in its place by the EU's own institutions."

But Iain Duncan Smith, secretary of state in the Department for Work and Pensions at the time the challenge was brought, hit back on behalf of Vote Leave.

"It’s absurd that we have to to run every nut and bolt of domestic policy past Luxembourg, and then engage in lengthy and expensive court battles if they decide they don’t like what our democratically elected Government is doing.

"As well as the cost to taxpayers of fighting these lengthy drawn out cases, it’s clearly an illegitimate challenge to our sovereignty. Although David Cameron didn’t want to admit it, this case and others like it are proof positive that the unelected European Court of Justice is now supreme above our elected Parliament."

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