Published: Monday 27th October 2014 by The News Editor
David Cameron faces a grilling on his increasingly fraught relations with Europe after a Cabinet minister warned that some towns were being “swamped” by immigrants from the continent.
The Prime Minister is due to brief MPs on last week’s shock demand for an extra £1.7 billion contribution to the EU budget. But he will also be forced to defend his strategy for renegotiating Britain’s membership terms after German chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to dismiss his “red line” of clawing back powers over borders.
Under pressure from Ukip and with a crunch by-election looming in the Rochester and Strood constituency, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon significantly ramped up Tory rhetoric on the sensitive issue yesterday – although he later backtracked.
Confronted with Mrs Merkel’s remark that she would not allow “tampering” with the principle of free movement within the EU, the Cabinet minister said: “The Germans haven’t seen our proposal yet and we haven’t seen our proposal yet.
“That is still being worked on at the moment to see what we can do to prevent whole towns and communities being swamped by huge numbers of migrant workers.
“In some areas, particularly on the east coast, yes, towns do feel under siege from large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits. It is quite right that we look at that.
“The original treaty when it was drawn up 50 years ago did not envisage these vast movements of people, and we are perfectly entitled to say this needs to be looked at again.
“We will put our proposal forward and we will look for support from other member states as well, including Germany.”
Mr Fallon said the Conservatives wanted to restrict how many migrants could come in to do particular jobs, or live in particular parts of the country. “We are looking at numbers particularly, is it right to allow huge numbers to come in particular sectors, in particular areas of the country without any kind of restraint at all,” he said.
“We’re looking at things like national insurance numbers and so on, but we have not finalised our proposals yet.”
The remarks immediately came under fire from the Tories’ Liberal Democrat coalition partners, with Energy Secretary Ed Davey urging politicians to speak responsibly.
“I’ve worked with Michael Fallon and I really respect him but I think those comments are more based on the Conservative concerns of the Ukip threat in the Rochester by-election than they are based on the facts,” he said.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said Mr Fallon’s claim that communities were being “swamped” reflected “the desperation of the Conservative Party”.
“You have got to be responsible always in the language that you use around issues of immigration,” he told Murnaghan.
“Of course there are challenges, I recognise that, but I think that embodies part of the problem at the moment. We have got a government that is spending more time negotiating with its backbenchers than negotiating with other European leaders.
“The truth is, if you are looking out the back window of your car all the time, you tend to crash the car and right now David Cameron is so fearful of internal challenge on the issue of immigration and external challenge electorally from Ukip that I think he is letting Britain down, and we saw that in some of the intemperate comments this week in relation to the unacceptable demand by the European Union in relation to the budget.”
As the criticism gathered pace, Mr Fallon was effectively slapped down by Downing Street. “He accepts he should have chosen his words better. He should have said ‘under pressure’,” a government source said.
Ukip’s tough line on immigration and the EU is seen as a major factor behind its surging popularity. The party came top in European elections earlier this year, and a poll has suggested it is on track to secure its second MP in the Rochester and Strood by-election on November 20 – triggered by the defection of Mark Reckless from the Tories.
After being presented with the demand for a £1.7 billion surcharge to UK budget contributions in Brussels last week, an exasperated Mr Cameron is said to have pleaded with European counterparts to cut him some slack or they could end up with Nigel Farage in his chair.
The premier has insisted the bill will not be paid by the deadline of December 1 and referred the matter to finance ministers for closer examination.
For its part, the European Commission has argued that the contribution revisions were calculated by independent statisticians using a standard formula agreed by all member states.
There are questions over why the Government did not see the problem coming months ago and Chancellor George Osborne is also under scrutiny after it emerged he knew days before the summit and did not tell the PM.
Branding the extra charge “outrageous”, Mr Fallon questioned the whole basis of the contributions system – which varies payments depending on countries’ economic performance.
“We’re going to look at how this sum got calculated,” he said. “Whether it is right that you should be taxed for the growth that you have had, and those countries that have not had successful growth policies should actually benefit – that does not seem right.
“But it is also the payment, as to why you should suddenly have to pay this within five weeks.”
Mr Fallon said the UK currently paid a “huge amount … a vast net contribution” to the EU.
Published: Monday 27th October 2014 by The News Editor