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IPPR report says the Government can tackle EU freedom of movement without Treaty change

As the European Council president warns David Cameron that a four-year ban on migrants claiming in-work benefits will be the most difficult part of his European renegotiations, IPPR sets out alternative options for the Prime Minister to achieve reform in Europe.
This new IPPR briefing ‘Unlocking the EU Free Movement Debate‘ explains how freedom of movement can be restricted while avoiding punitive or discriminatory benefit restrictions, and without fundamentally changing the founding principles of the EU.  It would also assuage public concerns and be more palatable to EU partners.


The briefing says it is clear that the British Government is finding it hard to make progress in their bid to win reforms necessary to sway the forthcoming EU referendum. The Prime Minister has staked his negotiations on a four-year ban on in-work benefits, which is beset by serious concerns from other EU countries.


However, IPPR believes there are ways forward that will find support among other EU countries, as well as satisfying the concerns of the British public. These include:


  • Welfare: Restricting the availability of Income-based Jobseekers Allowance to people who are first-time jobseekers from the EU and limiting full access to non-contributory benefits for unemployed EU migrants until they have worked in the UK for three years.


  • Public Services: Creating an EU-level fund to assist local councils with alleviating pressures on schools, hospitals and housing created by sudden rises in immigration, similar to the Migration Impacts Fund which operated from 2009 to 2010. Britain would be net recipients of such a fund.


  • Labour markets: Ensuring greater cooperation between EU member states in order to tackle cross-border exploitation of free movement by unscrupulous employers.


  • Integration: Changing EU law to allow the UK to require EU migrants to have an English language qualification and pass the ‘Life in the UK’ citizenship test in order to get permanent residence.


  • Crime: Strengthening the rules in the citizens’ directive on restricting the movement of serious criminals on public security grounds, in order to make it easier to expel criminals and prevent them from applying for re-entry for longer, from a maximum of three to five years.


IPPR’s report last month ‘Freedom of movement and welfare: A way out for the prime minister?’ sets out in even more detail the benefit changes that Cameron could make in order to win support from Europe and satisfy the British public.


IPPR’s 2014 report ‘Europe, free movement and the UK: Charting a new course’ stated that withdrawal from the EU would be a hugely retrograde step for the UK but that Britain needed to:


  • Address the problem of vulnerable low-skilled employment in the UK
  • Increase conditions on access to social security assistance for mobile EU citizens
  • Reform of the rules around transitional controls for future accession states