UK PM Cameron to set out curbs on EU migrants ahead of election

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 27, 2014 7:03 PM

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will set out plans on Friday to limit immigration from the European Union as he seeks to woo disgruntled voters less than six months ahead of a national election.

With polls showing immigration is voters' top concern, Cameron is under pressure to take a tougher line on the issue. Many of his Conservative lawmakers fear the rise in popularity of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, which this month won its second seat in parliament, threatens their re-election chances.

Under the EU's freedom of movement rules, EU citizens are entitled to work anywhere in the bloc. That has seen hundreds of thousands of EU nationals come to work in Britain, which has the bloc's fastest-growing economy.

Figures published on Thursday showed 228,000 EU citizens had moved to Britain in the year to June alone -- the highest recorded figure -- adding political pressure on Cameron to act.

UKIP and parts of the Conservative party say the public is unhappy about what it perceives to be abuse of the welfare system by unemployed EU migrants and is worried that those migrants who do find jobs are depressing wages.

Britain has already cut access to social security payments for EU migrants this year, tightening the eligibility criteria, increasing the waiting period before migrants are entitled to payments and halving the length of time for which they can claim unemployment and child benefits.

Measures announced on Friday could include plans to ban EU migrants from claiming welfare handouts for low-wage earners until they have paid a certain amount in taxes.

Europe's top court ruled earlier this month that EU nations could block jobless immigrants from receiving welfare benefits, giving Cameron leeway to act within a legal European framework.

However, a senior Conservative minister said last month the government was also considering limiting the number of EU citizens allowed to work in Britain -- a proposal that would put London on a collision course with its EU partners.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are among those who have warned Britain against trying to tamper with the EU's principle of freedom of movement.

Local media have reported that Cameron could also ask the EU for "an emergency brake" to restrict migrant numbers if and when they are deemed unmanageable and that he will make clawing back control of Britain's borders "a red line" in any future renegotiation with the EU.

Cameron has promised to try to reshape Britain's EU ties before holding a referendum on EU membership in 2017 if he is re-elected next year.

His speech is likely to outline what changes he hopes to negotiate with his wary EU partners and it was not clear whether any of the changes would come into effect before May's ballot.

(Editing by Crispian Balmer)