The Prime Minister’s announcement today that he is fast-tracking his curbs on ‘benefit tourism’ was designed to reassure worried MPs that the government really is moving as fast as it can to do anything it can ahead of the lifting of transitional controls on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants. When these curbs, which mean all EU jobseekers will have to wait for three months before they can apply for out-of-work benefits, were first briefed a few weeks ago, Downing Street suggested that they would not be ready for the 1 January deadline. Better to brief a later date and then speed things up, as the Prime Minister has today.
But while the announcement is well-covered in today’s press, it is The Sun’s striking front page that cuts to the chase on this issue. The real problem isn’t whether Downing Street is being quick enough to curb ‘benefit tourism’, which may frustrate some people and is worth tightening up the regulations on, but the lack of power that all European countries have over freedom of movement. This makes speedier curbs on benefit tourism look easy-peasy.
Splashing its leading article on the front page, the newspaper says:
‘The British people and The Sun today issue this ‘red-line’ demand to David Cameron: win back our power to halt immigration from the EU. If you can’t stop the flood, PM, there’s every chance the country will vote to get out altogether at your referendum.’
And this is the big risk for the Prime Minister: that his renegotiation attempt cannot win back these sorts of powers. David Cameron has already briefed that he wants to make freedom of movement a key area for reform. But will he really win more than just minor concessions on an issue seen as a cornerstone for the EU?
His MPs certainly hope that they can push him to at least ask for more. The amendment tabled by Nigel Mills to the Immigration Bill calling for a further extension of the transitional controls continues to accrue signatures and its main purpose is to push Downing Street into getting what one of the signatories described as ‘its knickers in a twist’ and giving out more details of the renegotiation plan. The ‘cell groups’ behind this threatened revolt think it could push the Prime Minister into taking a tougher stance, too. Or, as the Sun says today, else.