By Daniel Martin
‘We’re throwing open the doors to benefit tourists’: EU plan to let migrants claim as soon as they enter UK is blasted
The EU’s ruling that Britain should allow all European citizens to claim benefits ‘must be vigorously opposed’, according to a migration watchdog.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, has warned that the decision is ‘an open invitation to benefit tourism’.
Europe has given Britain two months to scrap its policies which prevent benefit tourists claiming billions of pounds in handouts.
Last night the European Commission said it would take the Government to court unless it draws up plans to axe restrictions on claims by immigrants, saying they are against the law and must be scrapped.
Brussels bureaucrats acted after receiving a complaint that the rules infringed the human rights of EU citizens.
But Sir Andrew warned the EU ruling could be a disaster, adding: ‘Clearly this risks blowing the Government’s immigration policy out of the water.’
And Employment Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the move threatened to break the ‘vital link’ which should exist between taxpayers and their own government.
He added: ‘The EU settlement is supposed to protect the right of member states to make their own social security arrangements.
‘But we are now seeing a rising tide of judgments from the European institutions using other legal avenues to erode away these rights, and we should be gravely concerned.’
It is feared the change could open the door to tens of thousands of Eastern Europeans who are currently deterred from coming to Britain – costing taxpayers up to £2.5billion a year in extra welfare payments.
At present a ‘habitual residency’ test is used to establish whether EU migrants are eligible for benefits.
To qualify for jobseekers’ allowance, employment support allowance, pension credit and income support, they must demonstrate they have either worked here previously or have a good opportunity to get a job.
But the European Commission said this ‘right to reside’ test indirectly discriminates against nationals from other EU states by enforcing a set of conditions that effectively tests their right to state handouts.
Officials in the Department for Work and Pensions warn it would cost anything from £620million a year to £2.46billion if they have to scrap the test – seriously hampering plans to rein in public spending.
Employment minister Chris Grayling said: ‘This is a very unwelcome development.
‘It’s obviously right that we support those who work and pay their taxes here, but it’s clearly completely unacceptable that we should open our doors to benefit tourism.
‘I’m really surprised the European Commission has chosen to go into battle on this very sensitive issue, when there are clearly far more pressing problems to solve in Europe.’
A source at the DWP added: ‘This could open the doors of the benefits system to anyone from the EU, even if they have no intention of working.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, said: ‘Once again we see the EC telling us how to run our country and people are becoming sick and tired of it.
‘The UK is perfectly within its rights to require EU nationals to fulfil certain conditions before taking advantage of our generous benefits system.
‘If the EC gets its way then there will be a far greater burden on the British taxpayer as more money will need to be found for the social security system.
‘The “right to reside” test should stay. It is not discrimination, but simply a system to ensure that benefits are paid only to those who are entitled to them.’
Stephen Booth, research director of think-tank Open Europe, said: ‘Freedom of movement within the EU has largely been positive for the UK but issues surrounding benefits and social security are understandably very sensitive.
‘For the freedom of movement within the EU to work, governments have to be able to assure their citizens that welfare systems won’t be abused.
‘At a time when people are concerned about the pressures of immigration, the Commission is playing a dangerous game by trying to overrule the UK on its “right to reside” test.’
The European Commission first set out its stall last year when it wrote: ‘EU law leaves it to member states to determine the details of their social security schemes and social assistance schemes, including the conditions on awarding benefits.
‘Having examined the “right to reside” test, it is not compatible with different legal provisions of EU law.’