THE government is preparing for a bitter clash with Brussels over EU plans to “seize control” of the welfare system by forcing Britain to grant benefits to non-Europeans.Source: Sunday Times (£)
Brussels is planning to sign a deal with Turkey without Britain’s consent that could extend its citizens’ access to the UK social security system.
Chris Grayling, the employment minister, fears the move will lead to a string of welfare deals with countries outside the EU, which this country would be powerless to resist.
He has instructed British officials in Brussels to fight the proposed agreement with Turkey hard when it is presented later this month.
Grayling said: “The government takes the very firm view there should be no opening up of our welfare system to people coming from abroad who do not intend to work and contribute to British society.
“Our arrangements are for Britain to decide, not Brussels. I’m not happy with the way that the EU is behaving. Europe should not be negotiating social security agreements on our behalf, that’s why we’re going through the courts to stop them.”
Turkey, which has about 75m people, has applied to join the EU. The pact on social security, Brussels believes, will “enhance the special relationship with Turkey” and “permit Turkey to align its policies on social security co-ordination with those of the EU in preparation for future accession”.
The deal would not immediately open the door to large numbers of new Turkish welfare claimants, because this country already has a treaty with Turkey dating from 1961 which gives some access to social security benefits.
However, officials are concerned that, once Brussels has grabbed power over benefits eligibility, rights could later be extended and given to citizens of other countries to claim here without British consent.
Tory ministers are concerned this would add millions of pounds to the welfare bill, harm attempts to cut the deficit and encourage benefit tourists to exploit Britain’s generous social security system.
The government has started a legal battle to stop the EU extending its power, taking a case to the European court to stop similar deals with Switzerland and Norway.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is also angry at what it sees as underhand tactics used by the European commission to bypass government consent.
The Lisbon treaty gave Britain the choice to opt in or out of agreements between Brussels and non-EU countries. However, the commission is trying to force through the deal using another part of the treaty that is usually used to govern relations between member states.
DWP sources said Brussels was pursuing an attempt to “bypass our rights”, “seize control” of pensions and benefits rights and encroach further on British sovereignty.
“We should have the right to decide whether to opt in or not to these agreements, but the way the EU is putting them together stops us exercising this right,” said a senior source.
Priti Patel, Conservative MP for Witham, said: “All British taxpayers should be deeply concerned about this. It demonstrates the extent of their erosion of British sovereignty.”
The European commission denied it was trying to harmonise social security systems, saying the deal would mean migrant workers were not put at a financial disadvantage when moving between states.
“None of this means anyone, wherever they are from, can just pitch up in the UK and claim benefits. For non-EU citizens, working or not, the UK decides whom to let in and for how long and whether to recognise them as resident,” said the commission.
“What this proposal does is simplify administrative arrangements for the governments concerned.”
Remember that 59% of Turkish immigrants in the UK are without work.