The UK is on track to pay out more than £1 billion in welfare payments to unemployed European Union (EU) migrants, government data has revealed. The findings are a major blow for those campaigning to remain within the EU, while pro-Brexit politicians have argued that they demonstrate an urgent need to reclaim control of our own borders.
In 2013/14, British taxpayers forked out a whopping £886million for unemployed EU migrants living in the UK, and a further £814 million for EU migrants in work, according to a government paper. Ironically, it was released in support of a dossier entitled The Best of Both Worlds, which aims to make the government’s case for Britain remaining within the EU.
In the foreword to the report, the Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Our special status gives us the best of both worlds. We will be in the parts of Europe that work for us – influencing the decisions that affect us, in the driving seat of the world’s biggest market and with the ability to take action to keep our people safe.”
But the government was not keen to release the report, and Mr Cameron’s own MPs have ridiculed him. Philip Davies, MP for Shipley told The Express: “It’s amazing we’ve got some figures at last, but one has to question how reliable they are.
“They certainly won’t be underestimates. It’s quite clear that immigration has gone up recently so the figures must be well over a billion pounds now, even by the Government’s own estimates.
“At last we are laying bare the huge cost of being a member of the EU. The changes the Prime Minister has negotiated are trifling – the only way to restrict benefits to EU migrants is to leave the EU.”
Fellow Conservative Eurosceptic Christopher Chope MP, said that welfare paid to immigrants remains “a very significant sum, and if the British taxpayer realised they would be even more concerned.”
He added: “I think this is why the Government has always been extremely reluctant to disclose the information.”
Mr Chope recently tabled a Bill designed to cut Child Benefit payments being sent abroad, but the idea was dismissed by fellow European Leaders during the Prime Minister’s attempt at renegotiating Britain’s terms of membership, and was eventually watered down to the payments being index linked to local benefits rates.
According to the briefing paper, some £456 million was spent on housing benefit for out-of-work EU migrants in 2013/14, and a further £216 million was paid out to them in jobseekers’ allowance. £205 million is listed simply as “other” out of work benefits, thought to be disability living allowance. The paper makes no mention of child benefit, which could push the total bill much higher.
Both the eye-watering figures, and the failure to renegotiate a better deal have led to a number of pro-Brexit politicians warning that the only way to take control of immigration from the EU, and the welfare payments that come with it, is to leave the EU.
The UK Independence Party’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall said the government’s plan to get net migration down to the tens of thousands “continues to be laughable”. Current net migration stands at 323,000 a year.
Mr Nuttall highlighted figures showing that 55,000 Romanians and Bulgarians came to the UK in September 2015 alone, while a similar figure again came from debt-stricken Italy and Greece. “With the economic crisis in Eurozone getting worse far from reducing economic migration we will see it continue to accelerate from southern and eastern Europe, he said.
“This means the benefits bill cannot fail to break the £1 billion mark.
“David Cameron was wrong because restricting benefits is not the way to stop immigration, getting control of our borders is the way to stop immigration.”
Mr Cameron, along with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel currently hope to welcome Turkey into the European bloc within the next five years, opening the doors to 75 million poor Turkish immigrants.
Downing Street meanwhile continues to insist that welfare payments to EU citizens will be reduced as a result of Mr Cameron’s renegotiated deal “because of the emergency brake,” which will limit payments to migrants until they have been in the country for more than three years.
But even politicians who want to see Britain remain within the EU have rubbished the emergency brake: on the weekend former Home Secretary Alan Johnson distanced himself from the deal, which he claimed would do nothing to stop the flow of migrants into the UK.
“That wasn’t my package, that was David Cameron’s package,” he said.