Nick Clegg today emailed everyone who had signed up to the Why I am IN campaign on the eve of the ALDE congress which takes place in London over the next 3 days. He took the opportunity to explain why he’d signed the Liberal Democrats up to the benefits changes announced by David Cameron today. The tone is very different from Cameron’s bombastic words today which seem to have confused agreed coalition policy with the Conservative desire to limit EU migration post 2015. Liberal Democrat members will no doubt want to make their views known on this. Also included in the message is news of a massive clampdown on firms which don’t pay the minimum wage, a move instigated by the Liberal Democrats.
This week is the annual Congress of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. Politicians and business people from across the EU will meet in London and I will be making it clear that the Liberal Democrats are Britain’s Party of In.
Let others flirt with the prospect of European exit in order to pander to the right. We remain passionately committed to staying in the EU for the sake of British jobs, security and influence in the world.
That does not mean that we are indifferent to the need to reform the EU. On the contrary, pro-Europeans urgently need to reclaim this territory. Otherwise we surrender this debate to the populists and xenophobes – the people who want to pull up the drawbridge and pull Britain out of Europe.
For that very reason I am urging all pro-Europeans to back the changes to the access European nationals have to UK benefits announced by the Coalition Government today. It is precisely because I want Britain to remain an open and outward facing nation that I am delivering these reforms.
Freedom of movement is a cornerstone of the European project and millions of Brits benefit from it every year. But years of mismanagement of the immigration system have undermined people’s confidence in it and this loss of faith must now be addressed. That is the only way to preserve this nation’s warm and welcoming nature. If we are to protect the right to move and work in the longterm, we must ensure it does not become an automatic right to claim benefits.
That is certainly consistent with arrangements elsewhere on the continent. Other countries such as the Netherlands already impose a three month residence requirement before you can access benefits like Job Seekers’ Allowance. The idea that European nationals have unfettered access to benefits across the member states simply isn’t true.
And nor should they. The EU is no longer a cluster of economically similar states, with small numbers of people crossing their borders. It has evolved into a 28-country club, with huge wealth discrepancies across its members and populations that are more mobile than ever before. It is entirely appropriate that different states impose their own qualifications and restrictions.
So under the Coalition’s changes access to out-of-work benefits will no longer be immediate. Newly arrived EU nationals looking for work will need to wait three months and they will not be able to claim housing benefit, at least until they get a job.
Benefits will not be unconditional. Visitors will be asked to show they are doing a certain amount of work, or else that they can support themselves, to stop people working just one or two hours and claiming that they are exercising their treaty rights.
In addition, benefits like Job Seekers’ Allowance will no longer be indefinite. EU nationals will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months, unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment.
We are also clamping down on those who employ people below the minimum wage with a fine of up to £20,000 for every under-paid employee. That’s more than four times the fine today
The test is simple: if you saw these rules applied to Brits living abroad, would you think they was fair? For me the answer is an unequivocal yes.
These are reasonable and sensible reforms which bring the UK more in line with the rest of the EU; which build confidence in the immigration system; and which will keep Britain open to its neighbours. This is pro-Europeans taking back the debate.