British home secretary battles Foreign Office over European migrants




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By FT

Theresa May, home secretary, and Office are locked in a battle over impact of European immigration to Britain, as the minister struggles to find evidence to support her case for tighter restrictions on migrants.

Ms May has infuriated Office by “dragging her feet” over a on impact of EU’s free movement rules, amid claims that evidence does not support her political narrative about abuse of the .

The stand-off reflects growing tensions inside the Tory party that a review of the balance of powers between Westminster and Brussels is failing to provide ammunition for eurosceptics. When the review was launched last year, many Tories hoped it would provide a blueprint for repatriating powers from the EU ahead of prime minister David Cameron’s planned referendum on Europe by 2017.

In July, Mr Cameron published the first batch of review papers, covering areas including the single market, which found that the balance of “competences” was “broadly appropriate”. Some Tory MPs claimed the work reflected the bias of a “Europhile Whitehall elite”.

Ms May’s paper – “Internal market: free movement of ” – will be the most contentious of a round of reports, as it focuses attention on the coalition’s claim that EU migrants are placing a burden on welfare, housing and health . One close to the exercise said the government was running out of to publish the : “Theresa is dragging her feet.” The Home Office declined to comment. The Office, which is overseeing the exercise, and the Liberal Democrats are demanding that the is based on evidence.

The government admitted last month in a document sent to the European Commission that it keeps no figures on how many EU nationals claim welfare in the , and coalition insiders say Ms May is finding it hard to find evidence to underpin her argument about migration.

One government said Ms May was frustrated that the evidence it has received “doesn’t fit the Home Office view”. “Theresa wants to go big on impact of immigration on local and health and the reality is there is very little evidence to demonstrate this.”