The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told German magazine ‘Der Spiegel‘ that she is willing for the UK to withdraw from the European Union to maintain freedom of movement within the political bloc.
The most powerful woman in Europe has made unrestricted immigration between member states one of her ‘red lines’ as the EU causes yet more differences to appear between Britain and Germany.
British Prime Minister has made freedom of movement “the very heart of my renegotiation strategy for Europe” but Der Speigel reports that Mrs Merkel told the magazine she will withdraw her support for the UK’s continued membership of the EU if he continues to push for migration reform.
To insist on fundamental changes would be when a “point of no return” is reached, according to German government officials. A four-on-one meeting with Mr Cameron and German politicians on the fringe of the EU summit should have left him in little doubt as to Mrs Merkel’s determination on this subject, it is said in government circles.
It was reported that Mr Cameron was looking to stretch the EU rules on freedom of movement “to their limits” including banning migrants who did not have a job and deport those who are unable to support themselves after three months.
Freedom of movement is one of the ‘fundamental freedoms’ of the European Union and its supporters have made much of the ability from all 28 countries to travel without restrictions. The rules on work and benefit entitlements vary from country to country according to each member’s own rules but fundamentally the laws on all EU citizens being allowed exactly what any British person can claim comes down to Brussels directives and an overriding law which stops discrimination based on the country someone originates from.
On Sunday, Conservative MP and former justice secretary Kenneth Clarke defended EU migration.
“If you’re going to have a sensible single market, if we want to compete with the Americans and the Chinese and so on and modern world, we need the free movement of labour,” he told BBC’s Sunday Politics.
Mr Clarke’s latest outburst will not be welcomed in Conservative circles. The party looks set to lose the Rochester and Strood by election later this month to UKIP despite desperate efforts by Mr Cameron to ‘talk tough’ on immigration. He spoke of applying an “emergency brake” to current rules although no official policy announcements have been revealed.
And Labour also made attempts to look like they were addressing the concerns of the British people when they announced new policies on immigration. These included stopping companies exclusively hiring workers from abroad, where EU laws allow companies to pay workers from Eastern European countries at their much lower rate of national insurance. To do so would, many point out, breach basic single market rules but Labour has chosen not to clarify their position despite requests to do so.
Last month Mrs Merkel angered Downing Street when she said that the British should pay the additional bill of £1.7bn ordered by the European Commission without any fuss.
According to diplomatic records from the EU Summit in Brussels, Mrs Merkel turned to Mr Cameron in the meeting and said “I understand that it is difficult to come up with €2 billion [£1.7billion] David, but this should have been expected” adding, “This did not come out of the blue.”
Downing Street has ruled out the additional charges, calculated from the UK’s Gross Domestic Product, being paid by 1st December. Germany was given a £780m rebate from the numbers which may provide a clue to the German Chancellor’s enthusiasm for sticking with these latest sums.