UK Politics

Benefit changes will make UK 'less attractive', Hammond says

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (L) and Polish Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak (R) address a joint press-conference in Warsaw, Poland on July 28, 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Philip Hammond has been touring EU member states including Poland

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has claimed that removing "incentives" is the best way of reducing immigration.

He told the BBC that proposals set out by the prime minister to limit migrants' access to benefits will discourage them from coming to Britain.

The foreign secretary rejected claims that David Cameron's plans are not workable.

Meanwhile, a former vice-president of the European Parliament has said Poland would veto any such changes.

Migrants would have to wait four years for certain benefits and face being removed from the country if they have not found work after six months, under Mr Cameron's programme.

He urged other EU leaders to support what he called the "reasonable" measures, and said lower EU migration would be a priority in future negotiations over the UK's membership.

Brussels has described his ideas as "part of the debate" to be "calmly considered".

'Blackmail'

Marek Siwiec, a former vice-president of the European Parliament who is also an ex-MEP for Poland, said Warsaw warned against attempting to "blackmail" other EU member states by alluding to the possibility of leaving the European Union.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Siwiec, a former European Parliament vice-president, warned the prime minister's language would make Poles in the UK "feel uncomfortable"

He said that if member states were asked today to agree treaty changes allowing the UK to curb migrants' benefits, Poland would exercise a veto "because we cannot agree such unilateral ideas and proposals presented by British prime minister".

Mr Hammond insisted that some of the limits suggested by David Cameron "can be done within existing frameworks" without the need for the approval of other EU countries.

"What we've set out is a set of measures that will make Britain a significantly less attractive destination for job-seeking Europeans," he said.

Q and A: What benefits can EU migrants get?

David Cameron's speech - the main proposals

  • Stopping EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits, such as tax credits, and getting access to social housing for four years
  • Stopping migrants claiming child benefit for dependents living outside the UK
  • Removing migrants from the UK after six months if they have not found work
  • Restricting the right of migrants to bring non-EU family members into the UK
  • Stopping EU jobseekers claiming Universal Credit
  • Speeding up deportation of convicted criminals
  • Longer re-entry bans for beggars and fraudsters removed from the UK
  • Stopping citizens from new EU entrants working in the UK until their economies have "converged more closely".
  • Extra money for communities with high levels of migrants

"Financial incentives drive people, they look at how much better off they're going to be and the overall package on offer in the UK... is a very, very attractive package."

Mr Siwiec denied that benefits played a significant role in the decision-making process of Polish people who emigrate to the UK.

They are not "not looking for extraordinary benefits, they are paying taxes, looking for equal treatment", he said.

He added that the prime minister's language would make Poles "feel uncomfortable in the country where they are working hard".

Cricket test

In separate comments, former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit suggested a new version of his famous "cricket test", to decide which immigrants are welcome in the UK.

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Media captionLord Tebbit, speaking on Newsnight, suggests an EU migrant 'test'

In 1990 Lord Tebbit proposed a "cricket test", suggesting immigrants who did not support the England cricket team had not integrated into society.

Lord Tebbit also expressed the view that the prime minister would find it difficult to get his way.

"I don't think what David Cameron said today is going to solve our problems because he has to get the agreement of the other 27 heads of government," he argued.

He said he did not believe the UK would get net immigration down to the 100,000 mark, adding: "We're simply going the wrong way."

"One test I would use is to ask them on which side their fathers or grandfathers or whatever fought in the Second World War," he went on.

"And you'll find that the Poles and the Czechs and the Slovaks were all on the right side. And so that's a pretty good test isn't it. Perhaps we'll even manage to teach them to play cricket gradually over the years."

Czech minister's tweet

The prime minister also used part of his speech to highlighted Polish and Czech pilots who fought alongside the British in World War Two.

"We will never forget the Polish and Czech pilots who helped save this country in its hour of need and the Poles who went on to settle here, help build post-war Britain and indeed contribute so much to our country today," he said.

But Czech State Secretary for European Affairs Tomas Prouza later tweeted this picture of Czech fighter pilots with the message: "These Czechs 'worked' in the UK for less than four years. No benefits for them?"

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