If David Cameron doesn’t stop European migrants claiming benefits, Britain cannot stay in the EU

This is a simple issue of principle: the British people will not accept a situation where their taxes fund benefits for people who have no moral right to them

The Union flag flutters next to the EU flag

The Union flag flutters next to the EU flag Photo: Toby Melville/PA

Why don’t we all move to Poland, Romania and Bulgaria next year?

Seriously, why don’t we all up sticks, sell our homes, hand in our resignations at work, warn our kids’ teachers and then pack our bags and move lock, stock and barrel to Eastern Europe?

I’ll tell you why not. Because life is better here. Because there are more opportunities to get on, to make a future for yourself and your family. Because there are more jobs here in Britain and, crucially, more jobs that pay well, with even our lowest wage jobs paying more than an average salary in Warsaw, Bucharest or Sofia.

en masse

It also explains why so many people from those countries do want to come to live here in Britain, and elsewhere in the richer half of the European Union. And who can blame them?

While we are all technically free to go and live and work anywhere in the European Union, the vast majority of Britons don’t want – or need – to leave. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands have arrived here in Britain from poorer EU countries, looking for work. Some are entitled to claim state help in the form of tax credits and housing benefit while they are here to supplement their income.

As we approach the EU referendum, David Cameron is claiming that thesemigrant benefits are one of his “red lines” in his negotiations with other European leaders over Britain’s future relationship with Brussels. He’s criss-crossing Europe trying to make his case: today he’s missing PMQs to go to Poland and Romania looking for support.

The Prime Minister wants to win agreement for EU migrants to be banned from claiming in-work benefits until they have lived in Britain for four years. It seems, to most reasonable people, to be a perfectly sensible and fair policy.

We are told it could even be the deciding factor in the outcome of the referendum, set to be held before the end of 2017, and Mr Cameron apparently hopes to persuade other leaders at a two-day summit in Brussels next week that the four-year ban is crucial to Britain voting to remain in the club.

But now the President of European Council, Donald Tusk, has thrown a spanner in the works by revealing that “While we see good prospects for agreeing on ways to fight abuses, there is presently no consensus on the request that people coming to Britain from the EU must contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits.”

This is an utterly preposterous state of affairs.

First, there is the fundamental issue that it should be the people of Britain, through our own elected representatives, who should decide who is and who is not entitled to benefit from our hard-earned taxes, not unelected Brussels bureaucrats – or even the elected representatives of other European countries. It should be a matter for us and us alone.

Secondly, the debate about migrant welfare benefits, in the rarefied circles of the EU, is only ever about so-called “abuses”, meaning claims that are not legally allowed, which totally ignores the question of whether the legal claims should be allowed in the first place.

Thirdly, the argument often given by EU supporters is that very few migrants actually claim these benefits anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. According to the Government’s own figures, EU migrants on “in-work” benefits cost the taxpayer £530m in 2013. Total Government spending is £733 billion this year.

While half a billion quid is not a small number to ordinary taxpayers, it is the principle that matters to most of us. Why should anyone be entitled to come to live in this country and claim welfare benefits without having first made any contribution?

But, leaving those three reasons aside, it is the final argument that clinches the case: None of this matters. None of it. Not one iota.

This entire debate and the will-they-won’t-they British “renegotiation” are just a farce, a deliberate act of smoke and mirrors.

This is nothing but a phoney war of words in a pretend battle of wills.

Because neither the EU nor David Cameron have any intention of agreeing to any major reforms to the EU, and least of all to the principle of open borders that enables any EU citizen to live and work and claim benefits anywhere they want, so a meaningless compromise is our only real hope.

While the Prime Minister might not really care about migrant benefits, he may be surprised to discover that many millions of hard-working Britons do, with many who believe, perfectly reasonably, that their taxes should not be spent on people who have no moral right to a claim on that money.

Most Britons may not want to cross to the other side of our continent to make a new life in Eastern Europe, but Mr Cameron would be foolish to think they will sit back and accept their red lines being crossed once again.

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