The British government may demand that the UK be given an emergency brake on the number of EU migrants who can come into the country in a desperate bid to appear tough on immigration and hold off the UKIP vote.
The Times reports that, spooked by UKIP’s continued rise in the polls, the Prime Minister is drawing up radical new measures to deal with immigration, with government sources saying that an announcement will be made by Christmas.
One option under consideration is to demand that the EU gives Britain emergency powers to cut the number of immigrants allowed into the country from certain EU states, something that would allow ministers to prevent further new arrivals if they would put a strain on public resources and social cohesion.
The government now recognises that mass immigration is a major concern for a growing section of the electorate, and that many people do not think mainstream parties are capable of addressing it.
In a private meeting with Conservative MPs after UKIP gained its first elected MP in the Clacton by-election, Mark Pritchard, who represents the Wrekin, told the Prime Minister to made a “game changing” speech on the issue and tackle UKIP head-on. The Prime Minister reportedly replied: “I get it”.
Some in the party are now keen for the Prime Minister to take action before the Rochester and Strood by-election next month, when the Conservatives will be desperately trying to hold off a UKIP challenge.
Many would like to see the introduction of an Australian-style points-based immigration system, but others have warned that promising big immigration reforms before announcing the details could build hopes too high, leading to inevitable disappointment and disillusionment when the Prime Minister finds he cannot introduce measures that are as tough as he wanted.
Analysts have warned that while demanding an “emergency brake” from Brussels could potentially work, obtaining it could be “very hard and very risky”.
Mats Persson, director of the Open Europe think-tank told the Times: “David Cameron needs to be careful not to talk up what he can achieve on EU migration in Europe, not least since Ukip can always move the goal posts.
“There’s support in Europe for changing the rules on access to benefits, which can be done without changing the EU treaties and which will go a long way to address people’s concerns.
“An emergency brake on numbers will be very hard and risky but may just be possible to achieve if that’s the only thing Cameron goes for, given that there are precedents for other areas in the EU treaties.
“A points-based system would be an extremely difficult task, involving fundamentally rewriting the EU treaties. Cameron should also point out that EU free movement does come with benefits.”