The work and pensions secretary said he would fight “every step of the way” to maintain the current system, which imposes additional eligibility requirements on non-UK nationals who attempt to claim British benefits. He said he was willing to make the case in person at the European Court of Justice.
EU commissioner Laszlo Andor argues that the policy, introduced in 2004, is discriminatory and restricts freedom of movement. He believes all EU nationals who are in the UK should be eligible for benefits, even if they are not officially registered as resident.
Conservative backbenchers held up the case as an example of Brussels attempting to block policies that have received the support of the British electorate. “It is extraordinary that this should be settled in a European court. I thought we had elections to decide these sort of things,” Douglas Carswell MP told City A.M.
“It is outrageous and demonstrates that the EU is unreformable – yet another example of how the people who exercise power over us are out of touch with us,” he added.
The European Commission has decided to bring the case after failing to make progress during two years of discussions. If Brussels wins the government says it could add as much as £155m a year to the UK’s welfare bill and severely damage the coalition’s plans to restrict the ability of non-UK nationals to access the NHS and social housing.