Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the Deputy Prime Minister said: “I’m up for establishing a clear principle that says the freedom to move around the European Union to look for work is one thing, but it’s not the same as the freedom to claim benefits on day one – no questions asked, no strings attached.”
The proposal to restrict access to government support has been mooted by secretary of state for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith, and could potentially prevent EU migrants from claiming benefits for up to two years. Duncan Smith told the Sunday Times newspaper that the UK should be free to ask migrants to show their commitment to the country, adding: “At that particular point... it could be a year, it could be two years, after that, then we will consider you a resident of the UK and be happy to pay you benefits.” He also confirmed that he is currently working with Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Finland on plans to curb benefits tourism.
The minister’s proposal goes much further than the one recently floated by Prime Minister David Cameron, who raised concerns about the legality of extending the amount of time EU migrants could be prevented from claiming benefits. The plans have also caused a stir in Brussels, with the president of the European parliament warning that free movement is a fundamental principle of membership.
Clegg also voiced his opposition to Cameron’s bid to remove housing benefit for under-25s during his interview with Marr yesterday, accusing the government of proposing a “Chinese-style family policy saying that the state says ‘Well, it’s OK to have two children. It’s not OK to have three children.’”