We are fast approaching the change of border rules. In January the transitional arrangements which limited entry to the UK and other EU states from Bulgaria and Romania comes to an end. This has posed two big questions for the government.
The first concerns welfare payments. Is the UK too generous to recently arrived migrants from the rest of the EU? Should the UK, like some continental countries, state that we have a contributory system, and require new people arriving to pay money in before they can qualify for benefits out – unless they have been born and brought up here?
The second concerns the numbers of people we should invite into our country to take the many new jobs the economy is now creating, at a time when we still have a lot of unemployed people already settled here. Many UK voters think there should still be some limits on inward migration from the rest of the EU, as there is from non EU countries, all the time we have a large number of unemployed people.
The question arises, should the UK government be doing more to retain and assert control over our own welfare system and borders. Presumably these are two critical areas which we would wish to renegotiate come the day. Maybe the Coalition government should try to gain an extension to the current transitional arrangements, as some of us have tabled as an amendment to the Immigration Bill this week. Maybe it should also look further at eligibility for benefits, and move our system more in the direction of the contributory principle.
The EU offered the free movement of workers, not of benefit recipients. The last Labour government, when signing away so many of our powers at Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon, assured us we would retain control of our benefit system. If the EU does allow full mobility and eligibility to receive benefits anywhere in the EU, then many more people will gravtitate to the countries that pay the highest benefit levels.