Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has claimed victory over British PM David Cameron, reassuring his fellow parliamentarians that Hungarians will still be able to access British benefits without having first paid into the system.
Last Friday, Mr. Cameron returned from a gruelling 31-hour summit in Brussels claiming victory in the renegotiations on the terms of Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Speaking directly after the summit, he said: “This deal has delivered on the commitments I made at the beginning of this renegotiation process. … There will be tough new restrictions on access to our welfare system for EU migrants – no more something for nothing.”
But Mr Orban has delivered a very different message to the people of Hungary, Guido Fawkes has reported. Speaking at the Hungarian parliament, Mr Orban said:
“Due to the specificities of the British system, the real debate was about there being benefits which workers do not pay for, but for which they are nonetheless eligible. The question was what should happen with benefits paid to third-country nationals, for which no contributions are paid in Britain. Here, too, we have succeeded in ensuring that these social benefits cannot be taken away… This means that we have even succeeded in protecting benefits which people working in the United Kingdom did not pay for in the form of contributions.”
Mr Cameron had initially been asking for a curb on in-work benefits for migrants until they had been living and working within the UK for four years. That proposal was watered down to a taper system, by which migrants would not reach the full level of benefits until four years had passed.
Mr Orban was the biggest critic of the proposal, taking issue with the portrayal of eastern migrants as ‘parasites’ on Britain’s social welfare system, as he put it in January.
“We would like to make it very clear that we are not migrants into the United Kingdom,” he said. “We are citizens of a state that belongs to the European Union, who can take jobs anywhere, freely, within the European Union.
“We do not want to go to the UK and take away something from them. We don’t want to be parasites. We want to work there. And I see that Hungarians are working very well.
“Those Hungarians that are working well and contributing to the UK economy, they should get respect and they should not suffer discrimination.”
Mr Orban is not the only European Leader to have boasted of victory at last week’s summit. As negotiations drew to an end Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo tweeted in Polish: “Today’s agreement is good news for Europe. We took care of the interests of Polish people benefiting from social services in the #EU Member States.”
Dzisiejsze porozumienie to dobra wiadomość dla Europy. Zadbaliśmy o interesy Polaków korzystających ze świadczeń socjalnych w państwach #UE
— Beata Szydło (@BeataSzydlo) February 19, 2016
Szydlo is said by insiders to have been the main figure mounting resistance to Mr Cameron’s requests to end child benefit payments for parents with children abroad, and the main cause of the summit spinning out for so long. Instead, from 2020, the payments will be indexed to the benefits paid locally.
Mr Cameron faces further headaches in his bid to persuade the British public that the renegotiation represents a good deal for the country, as it has since emerged that his deal may not be legally binding as it is open to challenge in the European Court of Justice.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today Program yesterday, Justice Minister Michael Gove, who is backing the campaign to leave the EU, said:
“The facts are that the European Court of Justice is not bound by this agreement until treaties are changed and we don’t know when that will be…
“…I do think it’s important that people also realise that the European Court of Justice stands above every nation state, and ultimately it will decide on the basis of the treaties and this deal is not yet in the treaties.”