[C]HRIS MANN: The big story this evening, David Cameron says he’ll push ahead with plans to restrict access to benefits for EU immigrants, after a European Commissioner warned the UK risked being seen as the nasty country. The Prime Minister wants to restrict housing benefit and JobSeekers Allowance for entrants from Romania and Bulgaria. We’ll get the comments of the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert a little later on, and I’m also going to be debating this live with two people who are very involved locally with Europe. First of all, Labour’s current MEP for Europe, Richard Howitt. Hello Richard.
RICHARD HOWITT: Evening Chris. Good evening everyone.
CHRIS MANN: Live from our studio in Brussels. And also Patrick O’Flynn, who’s recently been chosen as the lead UKIP candidate in the East of England. Patrick, hello to you.
PATRICK O’FLYNN: Good evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Also the Chief Political Correspondent of the Daily Express. So we’ll talk to them a little later on, but first of all, let’s hear our report from Westminster on this PM proposal, from Joe Inwood.
JOE INWOOD: Well there are a whole range of measures the Government’s talking about bringing in. The headline one really is that new migrants to the UK from the EU will receive no benefits for the first three months of their time here. After that benefit will be capped to a maximum of six months, unless they can prove they’ve got a prospect of work. And also any migrant who is begging or sleeping rough will be removed from the UK and banned from the country for a year. Now on the surface the Government says this is to address people’s concerns over migration, specifically from Romania and Bulgaria when the EU rules governing migrants from those countries are relaxed on 1st January. It’s been claimed that tens of thousands of people could be coming, which has led to what he called deep concerns shared by people about so-called welfare tourism.
DAVID CAMERON: Yes of course there is a right to take up a specific position if you want to work. But there shouldn’t be a freedom of movement to claim. So that’s what this is about, and I think it can make a difference, and I share people’s concerns.
JOE INWOOD: Now the Prime Minister should also have concerns about the political realities of this. He’s been getting a lot of pressure from his back benches about the impact of migration and the new countries joining the EU, and also from external parties, specifically UKIP, who have been having a lot of success in the polls recently, some people say at the expense of the Tories, on the issues of immigration and welfare.
CHRIS MANN: We’ll be debating this in a moment or two with the UKIP candidate and the current Labour MEP. But what’s the reaction to these proposals been elsewhere?
JOE INWOOD: It’s pretty varied, a lot of it what you’d expect. UKIP and commentators, pressure groups, have welcomed it. They’ve warned of as many as 70,000 people a year coming from Romania and Bulgaria, and these fears of so-called benefit tourists. The proposals have also got cross-party support, with Labour claiming that while they welcome this, they actually suggested the same thing eight months ago, and it should have been implemented then. But there are some people who say there isn’t actually the data to back up these claims. Firstly, that that data isn’t collected, so we don’t know the scale of people coming over here. But also, some experts – I was speaking to an analyst at the Centre for European Reform – say that when you actually look at it, the number of EU migrants who claim welfare when they come here is tiny. He said in fact it’s just 0.2% of EU migrants claim benefits without working. It’s also led to some real anger in Europe. There were strong words this morning to the BBC from one EU Commissioner, Laszlo Andor.
LASZLO ANDOR: It’s not really helpful, because it risks presenting the UK as a kind of nasty country in the European Union.
JOE INWOOD: So there. The UK being characterised as the nasty country. Now not all of the language coming out of Europe has been quite so hostile. We heard just a few minutes ago in fact from the Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who said he’d had a long and cordial conversation with the Prime Minister, but has reiterated that free movement of labour is one of the central principles of the European Union.
CHRIS MANN: So Joe, the Prime Minister has made these proposals. But does that actually mean they will happen?
JOE INWOOD: Well he says they will. It’s not entirely clear. Some of them won’t need new legislation. That’s quite clear. Some of them won’t even need renegotiation. And the Prime Minister says that countries such as the Netherlands already have restrictions like those he’s proposing, and that Germany has tougher rules already. But experts say there’s no certainty the UK proposals will be able to be applied without new legislation, or renegotiation of power. Indeed it’s worth noting the UK Government is actually currently going through a case at the European Court of Justice over another policy that’s seen to discriminate against EU migrants. So the outcome of that will be very interesting. But despite all of this, the Government saying it seemed pretty confident that they will be able to implement these changes, and say they’ll be in force in the New Year.
CHRIS MANN: Well that was our reporter in Westminster there Joe Inwood with the full details of the PM’s announcement today. Want you views of course. Give us a call. (TELEPHONE NUMBER) Have the Government gone far enough. Perhaps you’d like to see them go further. Or do you think that actually, as was we heard one argument there, there should be free movement of labour in Europe, and that people should be allowed to come here and claim what benefits they can at the moment. (TELEPHONE NUMBER) You can also email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can contact me on Twitter of course, @ChrisMannBBC . let’s start to get reaction now. Got our two live guests in a moment, but first of all the LibDem MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert, today questioned whether the measures were really necessary.
JULIAN HUPPERT: The vast majority of EU migrants do not claim benefits. Instead they contribute substantially to our country and our economy. A total of £25 million, according to one UCL study.
CHRIS MANN: So, they contribute says Julian Huppert. Let’s see what our other two guests say. A reminder that we’ve got Patrick O’Flynn who’s the lead UKIP candidate in the East of England for next year’s European elections. Patrick, hello.
PATRICK O’FLYNN: Hello.
CHRIS MANN: And we also have joining us as I said from Europe, from Brussels, the Labour MEP Richard Howitt. Richard, hello.
RICHARD HOWITT: Hello again.
CHRIS MANN: Are they really saying that Britain is a nasty country there?
RICHARD HOWITT: Well I always thought it was the Conservative Party that was the nasty party, not Britain a nasty country. But what worries me about this plan from Cameron is that it’s misplaced, because he’s .. it is very clear that out of work benefits he needs to bring in primary legislation. And even with Labour’s support he can’t do that in time for 1st January next year. Now everyone’s known that these transitional safeguards would be lifted on 1st January. Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007. And for Cameron only to come to this so late in the day, and actually to introduce measures that won’t even apply when they join in is crazy.
CHRIS MANN: So it’s a stable door, once the horse has bolted, is it?
RICHARD HOWITT: That’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s definitely a muddle and a fudge and a mismanagement.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Patrick O’Flynn, your paper the Express today, the headline “At last a crackdown on new EU migrants.”
PATRICK O’FLYNN: Yes. And it is, I agree with Richard, an eleventh hour thing. And it seems to have the whiff of panic about it. But what I think I must have missed from Richard’s remarks is any apology for Labour’s catastrophic mishandling of the 2004 A8 immigration, where Labour didn’t put in any controls whatsoever, including no transitional controls.
CHRIS MANN: Richard. 2007 was the moment. You missed it.
RICHARD HOWITT: Well as David Cameron is finding now, that when you’re in Government, it’s not as easy as you say it is. Because he’s asked how many Romanians ..
CHRIS MANN: Well the question’s there. In 2007, did you miss the moment in 2007 Richard?
RICHARD HOWITT: UKIP constantly repeat this, there were no controls. It’s wrong. They’re just deliberately misrepresenting it to people. We brought in the points system. We brought in controls that led to more people being deported than applying. And we were very tough. But let’s also put it in proportion. Your correspondent said 0.2% of people who travel across the borders actually claim benefits. And what worries me about what Cameron’s doing is it’s stoking up the fears, stoking up the prejudices, making it look like the problem is worse than it is.
CHRIS MANN: OK. Let’s put that to Patrick O’Flynn. It’s xenophobic. You’re stoking up the fears.
PATRICK O’FLYNN: That’s utter nonsense. We’re not talking about irrational fears, we’re talking about real problems in people’s lives. People whose kids can’t get their first job, people whose grown up children are still living in the box bedroom because they can’t find any housing. We’re talking about public services under strain, congestion on the roads. We’re talking about a wide range of problems because as Cameron admitted today, if you have two sets of economies at very different stages of development, complete untrammeled free movement just does not make sense.
CHRIS MANN: Well, the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council said to me this week, when I was asking him about it, that if you go to the Fens in particular, agriculture couldn’t keep moving without the migrant labour there.
PATRICK O’FLYNN: Well there is a point. There is already an agricultural scheme involving Bulgarian and Romanian workers, a seasonal scheme. But there’s also the point that perhaps, if the labour supply, that cheap labour, was slightly curtailed, you might find wages having to rise. And there are certainly large numbers of unemployed Britons who could do those jobs. Perhaps, if the Government accelerated their welfare reform programme, they might end up doing them.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. Richard Howitt, will these measures work? Will this be passed?
RICHARD HOWITT: Well look, firstly, Jonathan Portes, the former Chief Economist at the Department of Work and Pensions, said today quote these are just a few tweaks to the system, and will affect very few migrants. So this is all about politics.You know that there’s a Conservative back bencher that’s put forward a proposal saying that there should be a rebellion by the Tories against Romanian and Bulgarian migration. David Cameron, just as he’s done on the EU referendum, is being led by his own back benchers. And this is all about the splits on Europe in the Tory Party.
CHRIS MANN: OK. We have to leave it there. Thank you very much indeed.