Britain ‘wide open to abuse by freeloading migrants’, says Foreign Secretary
Britain is “wide open to abuse” by “freeloading” European Union migrants who are exploiting the welfare state, the Foreign Secretary has said.
Philip Hammond said that the Government is “determined” to reform Britain’s relationship with Brussels so that there is a “sufficient impact on migration numbers to satisfy the public”.
His reference to “freeloading” represents one of the most outspoken comments by a Cabinet minister about the EU and will infuriate senior figures in Brussels.
It came after Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, earlier this week compared British membership of the EU to a doomed romance and suggested it is time for Britain to get a divorce from Europe.
It is the first time Mr Juncker has publicly contemplated a British exit and he reinforced his message by insisting he would not get down on his knees to beg Britain to stay.Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hammond said: “As the Prime Minister has set out on more than one occasion, we have increasing agreement across the European Union that we need to address abuse of free movement.
“Free movement to work is one of the principles of the European Union; free movement to freeload is not one of the principles of the European Union. Britain is not the only country affected by this problem and not the only country determined to address it.”
Speaking later before the European scrutiny select committee, Mr Hammond would only say that he “very much hopes” that he will be able to support continued membership of the EU, but that it depends on the scale of the reforms.
David Cameron has pledged to reform Britain’s relationship with the EU before holding an in-out referendum in 2017.
Mr Hammond also echoed comments made by Mr Cameron earlier this month, who indicated that the referendum could be held earlier than 2017. “The sooner we can do it the better,” Mr Hammond told MPs.
He said that Britain is “wide open” to abuse by EU migrants.
“One of the most common themes I hear in discussing abuse of free movement with European partners is a request to us to look at the way they do things and see if we couldn’t tighten up our own system,” he said.
“We are wide open to abuse. We have tightened up some things already, there are going to be more measures that we can introduce that will make it more difficult for people coming from the European Union to abuse our system.
It came as Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, attacked the Conservatives over their plans to reform the EU, calling them “dangerous” and “utterly unrealistic”.
Mr Cable said that the Tories are of “shouting from outside” and undermining British influence in Europe.
Mr Cable added: “I think the approach of the Conservatives is actually quite dangerous. It is assuming that the other 27 countries will magically agree to British requests. It is raising expectations that changes can be achieved within the EU that will be very difficult to deliver.”
Sir John Major, the former prime minister, on Tuesday said that Britain is becoming a “more European” country.
Speaking to the European magazine, he said that there has traditionally been an “unenthusiastic portion” of the population who regard themselves as being “British but not European”.
However, he said that “this feeling fades with each generation” and said that as long as people are presented with “broader arguments” they will be persuaded “that staying within the EU is in our best interest”.