Clarke warns PM on benefits block

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Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

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David Cameron has been warned that barring European Union (EU) nationals from claiming benefits in Britain would be “totally discriminatory” as he prepares to deliver a key speech on immigration.

The Prime Minister is said to be considering pledging a two-year block on handouts for new arrivals in a bid to win back voters from Ukip.

The pressure on Mr Cameron was increased this morning when Home Secretary Theresa May admitted the Government was “unlikely” to meet his target of cutting net annual migration below 100,000.

In an interview with Sky News’ Murnaghan programme, Tory former Cabinet minister Ken Clarke suggested his approach was to blame for the poll surge that saw Nigel Farage’s party win the Rochester and Strood by-election last week.

“I do think the tactics of the two major parties of government – the serious parties of government – of trying to imitate Ukip since then have actually made them more credible and has gifted them two by-elections,” Mr Clarke said.

“Because we were campaigning in a way that was supporting their anti-European, anti-immigration front running things.

“We have probably provoked a whole fresh rash of demands from Eurosceptics in the media and in parliament for yet more demands from Europe and leaving Europe, and all this sort of thing.

“We’ve got to get back to a serious agenda where Ukip have no policies worth talking about – on the economy, on the health service, on education – and remind people that you are electing somebody who’s got to govern the country in the middle of a rather serious crisis still in May.”

Mr Clarke said talking about the economy was “a damn sight more sensible than ‘how can we be rude to Europeans to cheer up Ukip?'”

“What we mustn’t do is keep trailing all kinds of suggestions of things we can think of that might be nasty to Europeans on the benefit front,” he said.

According to the Sunday Times, Mr Cameron’s team has been studying proposals from think-tank Open Europe that would stop EU immigrants receiving in-work benefits such as tax credits.

About 250,000 are thought to receive the income top-ups, costing the government around £1.6 billion a year.

A report from the think-tank suggests a single Spanish immigrant on minimum wage can see their weekly income rise from £214.07 to £290.28.

But Mr Clarke said withdrawing the benefits would be “totally discriminatory”.

“You have an Englishman working alongside a Pole doing the same job, they both pay the same taxes – which amongst other things pay for tax credits – and the Englishman gets the tax credit and the Pole doesn’t,” he said.

“If I was a Polish politician I wouldn’t agree to that in a negotiation, nor do I think it is a particular problem, and I don’t think it would pacify the Ukip people and the extreme Eurosceptic people.”

Mrs May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that non-EU immigration had been brought down to similar levels as at the end of the 1990s.

“But it is, of course, unlikely that we are going to reach the tens of thousands by the end of the parliament,” she said.

“Why is that? It’s because we have seen increasing numbers of people coming from across Europe, partly because our economy is doing better than other economies in Europe.”

She said the Government had been doing “what we can” with EU migration and insisted that the principle of free movement of labour had to be up for grabs in the Tories’ mooted renegotiation of British membership terms.

“What we have been doing is taking the steps that we believe we can take already and looking to see if there is more that we can do,” Mrs May said.

“We have changed in relation to benefits, people’s access to benefits so people can’t come here and start claiming benefits immediately, we have introduced strict criteria in other areas of looking at people’s access to benefits, and we continue to look at what we can do.”

She added: “I believe that it is important to us, as we look ahead to negotiating a new relationship with the EU, that we put free movement as one of those key issues that we are going to negotiate on and we are going to deal with.

“It is important that free movement is in there, because this is an issue that we see as central stage but increasingly is being seen by other countries as an issue they need to address.”

Ms May went on: “We are looking at a variety of ways in which it would be possible to take action in relation to this policy of free movement.

“Our overall aim remains to bring net migration to this country down to sustainable levels.”

Published: Sunday 23rd November 2014 by The News Editor

Comments (1)
  • bailey

    bumbling ken clark time he retired on is enormous pension he wants to live in the real world with the poor ,the only vote is for ukip even if it is a protest vote all partys have not listened to the people of this land and we have never had a vote on what we want they have got us in this nmess in the first place come to Britain everyone the benefits are easy to get and fiddle don,t think one government department is fit for purpose in years to come this country will reap what it has sown
    all you get is we are allowed to go to other countrys yes we can but we don,t go for benefits has our benefits are better than any where else we go to live in other countrys to work or retire on our hard earned pensions

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