EU migrant curbs should be 'temporary' says Major

John Major: New deal will not be "seeking to end free movement" across the EU

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A "pragmatic" solution can be found in Europe to temporarily limit the number of EU migrants coming into the UK, Conservative ex-PM Sir John Major says.

He told the BBC restrictions could be introduced for a "shortish" period of time, potentially for about a year, without infringing free movement rules.

This, he said, would address a spike in migrants from southern Europe caused by the recession in much of the eurozone.

But the UK Independence Party said talk of a short-term deal was "laughable".

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps welcomed Sir John's intervention, saying free movement could not be an "open-ended deal" and Britain must have "some control" over migrant numbers.

David Cameron is considering a number of options, including seeking an "emergency brake" on the number of new arrivals, and will set out his strategy before Christmas.

However, other EU countries have said they will not agree to any changes which undermine the right of citizens of EU countries to live and work in other member states.

'Particular problem'

Sir John, who was Conservative prime minister between 1990 and 1997, told the Andrew Marr Show the UK benefited from migration, arguing the NHS and the transport system could not continue to operate without foreign labour.

But he said the UK had a "particular problem" with numbers and this was "accelerating" due to the contrast in economic fortunes across Europe, with the UK growing strongly and much of the eurozone stagnating.

The UK's population had increased by 7% over the past decade, he said, and without any action, it was projected to rise by a further 25% over the next few decades.

Commuters David Cameron has said he will outline his strategy on migration before the end of the year

"As people begin to see the particular circumstances we face, I believe there will be a great deal of sympathy for the difficulty," he said.

"The EU has a very pragmatic record of finding ways round difficult corners like this and we will need to do so again on this and perhaps on other issues."

Sir John said he believed there were some practical steps that could be taken which "did not infringe the principle (of free movement) but do meet the problem".

Any restrictions would only be "relatively short term" and could be lifted once the economic picture across the eurozone had improved.

"I see it as a shortish-term problem," he added. "Maybe not a year, maybe longer. We need a little help over that period."

But he insisted it did not mean the UK would be "closing its doors either politically or economically".

UKIP 'un-British'

Mr Cameron is under pressure from his backbenchers to negotiate more longer-term controls over EU immigration, with the UK Independence Party gaining ground in the polls six months before the election.

Sir John Major tells Andrew Marr he is "strongly in favour" of EU membership

The Observer reported one Conservative source as suggesting that the Conservatives were resigned to losing next week's Rochester and Strood by-election to UKIP.

Sir John acknowledged that UKIP had drawn support from people who believed they had "fallen behind" during the recession and the subsequent years of austerity, but he accused its leadership of the "negativity of the four-ale bar".

"The policy and direction of UKIP, it seems to me is profoundly un-British in every way. They are anti-everything. They are anti-politics, anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant.

"We know what they are against but I do not know what they are for."

'Arrogant'

UKIP said Sir John was "out of touch", insisting it had a "positive" vision for life outside the EU.

"It is extremely arrogant for a senior figure of one party to claim another party is 'un-British' - that is for voters to decide," a party spokesman said.

"We see huge possibilities for Britain as a global trading nation."

On immigration, UKIP added: "What we are are seeing is a continued huge influx from eastern Europe now being supplemented by a sharp rise in immigration from southern Europe as citizens from countries like Portugal and Spain find that the only way to escape the eurozone nightmare is to vote with their feet."

Mr Shapps accepted that his party had a "problem" meeting its pledge of reducing net migration to less than 100,000 a year by the end of the current Parliament in May.

"From outside Europe we have been very successful, from inside Europe we have a problem, which has been spurred by the fact that we've had the fastest growing of the economies in Europe," he told Sky News.

'Rhetoric vs diplomacy'

But Labour said Sir John was offering "more effective leadership" than David Cameron.

"John Major offered a very elegant indictment of the present approach being taken by the Tory leadership in saying that they needed to dial down the rhetoric and dial up the diplomacy," shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander told Sky News.

The Lib Dems said they strongly supported the free movement of people in the EU but accepted that trust in immigration controls had to be "rebuilt", initially by ensuring exit checks at the UK's borders were fully implemented.

In a speech in Berlin last week, Sir John rated the possibility of the UK leaving the EU in the future as high as "50-50".

He told Andrew Marr that the UK could survive outside the EU but "its word would mean less" and its economic weight would be diminished.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told Sky News the UK had to be "able to invest in a different idea of Europe" as the EU would face a "disaster" without it.

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