Claim: May Told Cameron to Drop Plans for EU Migrant Brake

Oli Scarff - WPA Pool /Getty
Oli Scarff - WPA Pool /Getty

It has been claimed that the then-Home Secretary Theresa May refused to support former Prime Minister David Cameron on tough immigration controls because “we just couldn’t go against Merkel”.

It has been alleged that Ms. May told Mr. Cameron that he should not demand an “emergency brake” to limit the number of European Union (EU) migrants coming to Britain because German Chancellor Angela Merkel would not support it. Instead, Mr. Cameron did a deal with Brussels to cut benefits paid out to new EU arrivals, which voters rejected in the June 23rd referendum.

Mr. Cameron had previously discussed with the German chancellor the idea of an annual cap on the number of national insurance number handed to EU migrants or an emergency brake on numbers. In response, Ms. Merkel said she would not agree to changes to free movement.

All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class claims that Mr. Cameron, conscious that immigration was likely to be the leading issue in the referendum campaign, had vowed to demand concrete controls on EU migrant numbers anyway, anticipating that other EU leaders would give way rather than let Britain leave the political bloc.

The former prime minister met with Ms. May and then-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Philip Hammond for support on the 27th of November 2014, the day before Mr. Cameron made his speech outlining his immigration demands to Brussels.

One of Cameron’s aides said: “Hammond spoke first and argued we just couldn’t announce something that would receive an immediate raspberry in Europe. Theresa said very, very little, and simply said that we just couldn’t go against Merkel.”

A witness said: “The PM was visibly deflated as they left.” Cameron then turned to one of his officials and said: “I can’t do it without their support. We’ll just have to go with the benefits plan. If it wasn’t for my lily-livered cabinet colleagues…”

One of Cameron’s closest aides remarked: “Who were the two people who told him not to do that because it’s undeliverable? Your new prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer.”

Adding: “When Theresa talks about ‘I will not take no for an answer’, she was the one who folded then. Theresa May and Philip Hammond were the ones to say you won’t get the emergency brake.”

In response to the claims, a spokesman for Ms. May said: “It is completely and utterly untrue to suggest that Theresa did not want immigration controls to be part of David Cameron’s EU renegotiation.

“It is a matter of public and private, official record that she did want immigration controls to be a priority. And since becoming prime minister, she has made clear that following Brexit we will be able to control the number of people who come to Britain from the EU.”

The aide who witnessed the exchanges said on Saturday: “It’s true she obviously wanted as good an immigration deal as she could get. It’s true that she wrote a letter.

“But when the crunch moment came — do we take a risk, do we go for something that is going to be tougher and that Merkel is not going to back and that will be tougher to negotiate post the election? — her instinct was that if the Germans don’t support it, we can’t do it. That was her view and she said it in the meeting.”