Cameron sets immigration red line ahead of EU summit
Published 21/05/2015 | 14:29
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said restricting European Union migrant access to Britain's welfare system was a red line in his negotiations with the bloc.
Cameron, re-elected on May 7, has pledged to reshape Britain's ties with the European Union before holding an in-out EU membership referendum in 2017.
He is under growing pressure to cut immigration.
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Official data released hours before he spoke showed net annual migration hit a near record high of 318,000 in 2014, despite his pledges to cut it to less than 100,000.
"I and many others believe it is right for us to reduce the incentives for people who want to come here," Cameron told an audience in London before flying to an EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Latvia, his first foreign trip since his re-election.
"Changes to welfare to cut EU migration will be an absolute requirement in my renegotiation."
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New measures Cameron unveiled on Thursday included making working illegally a criminal offence and giving authorities the power to seize illegal earnings. Critics pointed out they would do little to reduce EU immigration, which is legal.
Cameron wants to force EU migrants to wait four years before accessing a range of welfare benefits and to win the power to deport out of work EU jobseekers after six months.
The focus of his speech was largely domestic, but its timing will be seen as a message to EU leaders about how important the issue is to him.
He said he supported the EU's freedom of movement rules but was not alone in wanting to ensure welfare benefits were not a driver of that movement.
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German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he had invited Cameron's closest ally, George Osborne, to Berlin to discuss possible reform.
Germany wants reform of euro zone rules, something that could be done at the same time as Britain's renegotiation.
It has also said it might support changes to crack down on abuses of welfare systems.