Britain's Cameron defends plans to restrict benefits, movement of EU migrants


Prime Minister David Cameron at the British curry awards on November 25, 2013 in London, England.


WPA Pool

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday defended plans to impose tighter controls on welfare benefits for migrants from the European Union.

"British people expect fairness," Cameron told the BBC, talking about rules that would limit benefits for migrants working in the UK. "It is about fair treatment for people who work hard and do the right thing."

In an article in the Financial Times, Cameron said he planned to amend the law so new migrants would have to wait three months before accessing unemployment benefits.

Other proposed measures include benefits ending after six months unless the claimant has a "genuine" shot at a job, delaying housing benefits, and deporting those caught begging.

The proposed rules are aimed at addressing public concerns about an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants when restrictions expire at the beginning of next year.

"Free movement is non-negotiable," Viviane Reding, vice president of the EU executive, told Reuters about the plan to restrict movements of EU migrants.

"If Britain wants to leave the single market, you should say so. But if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it Mr Cameron," she said.

European Commissioner Laszlo Andor said Cameron's proposals risked the UK being viewed as "nasty."

Cameron said the freedom of movement across the EU should not be a right that's "unqualified."

Meanwhile, the opposition Labour party accused Cameron of delaying the decision. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government was "flailing around" and Cameron was "playing catchup."

Right-wingers in Cameron's Conservative party demanded that the "transitional controls" on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants be extended beyond January 2014, but immigration minister Mark Harper said last week that it was more likely migrants would go to Germany, Italy or Spain rather than the UK.

The BBC produced this handy graphic for migrants to the UK by country of origin: