David Cameron, UK prime minister, will on Wednesday announce a dramatic assault on the principle of free movement of people across EU borders, vowing to deport vagrants and calling for rules to stop “vast migrations”.
Writing in the Financial Times, Mr Cameron insists Europe has to reform “to regain the trust of its people”, amid fears that unlimited migration is fuelling support for rightwing populist parties such as the UK Independence party and France’s National Front.
The UK has been the biggest cheerleader for EU expansion and free movement but it now wants to pull up the drawbridge with rules to stop workers from poor countries moving to richer member states.
With an eye fixed on future accessions in the Balkans and possibly Turkey, Mr Cameron demands “new arrangements that will slow full access to each others’ labour markets until we can be sure it will not cause vast migrations”.
He suggests imposing restrictions on movement until a country’s GDP per head reaches a certain share of the European average or allowing each country to set an annual cap on EU migrants.
Mr Cameron will put the ideas at the heart of his proposed renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU before a planned referendum in 2017. He believes the likes of Germany, Austria and the Netherlands would be supportive.
Mr Cameron’s initiative is intended to allay rising concern in Britain about the lifting of work restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants on January 1 across the EU. He says “things have gone wrong” under a system where 1m eastern Europeans settled in Britain after the last big round of EU enlargement in 2004.
Amid media reports of intimidatory behaviour by Roma in some UK cities, Mr Cameron says Britain will deport European workers found begging or sleeping rough, barring them from returning for 12 months. Measures will be introduced to restrict access to Britain’s welfare state, including a three-month qualification period for benefits, which would then be payable for only six months.
European migrants working in part-time jobs and falling below a certain income threshold would lose access to some benefits and newly arrived jobseekers would not be able to claim housing benefit.
European elections next May are expected to see a big rise in support for rightwing parties, such as Ukip, the Front National and other populist groups in the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland.