David Cameron’s plans to curb migrant benefits look like they are already in tatters before negotiations have even begun.
The Prime Minister is meeting his Polish counterpart Ewa Kopacz today, but before the meeting Ms Kopacz’s chief economic advisor Janusz Lewandowski said: “Cameron won’t get far in Warsaw. He wants to limit immigrant rights and will hear a definite no, as he did in other European capitals.”
The British government wants to restrict EU immigrants from claiming in-work benefits for four years after their arrival and bar unemployed immigrants from claiming any benefits.
The proposal is illegal under current EU rules, however, which is why David Cameron is trying re-negotiate an opt-out for Britain.
But Mr Lewandowski flatly rejected the idea, saying: “Yes to the principal of subsidiarity and no to discrimination of immigrants.”
Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna added: “We want Great Britain to stay in the EU. But the interest of Poles, our citizens who live in Great Britain is important.
“It’s a question of the joint market, these are basic questions. We understand the British stance. But there are also EU fundamentals on which joint Europe was forged. It will be a tough conversation, but very firm on the Polish side.”
The Telegraph reports that Downing Street has tried to play down the disagreement, with a spokesman saying: “On immigration and welfare, Prime Minister Kopacz welcomed the PM’s commitment to respect the principle of free movement.
“They agreed that there were issues concerning the interaction between free movement and national welfare systems that should be discussed further.”
Last night, the Prime Minister dined at the Élysée palace with French President François Hollande where he met a similar rebuff. Cameron said EU leaders should be “flexible and imaginative” to stop Britain leaving, but French officials said his migrant welfare plans would be hard for EU countries to accept.
Cameron will fly to Germany later today for similar talks with Angela Merkel, but the outcome is unlikely to be any different.
Poland’s Minister for European Affairs also waded into the debate, saying that treaty changes and “discriminatory measures” would be a “red line” for Poland.
“If every country comes with a shopping list to change European Union policies, that will be the end of the European construction, it will simply implode,” he said.