The Prime Minister has set out the measures a Conservative Government would impose on immigrants, including four-year residency tests before new migrants can claim housing benefits or tax credits, as pressure mounts over rising immigration numbers.
In his keynote speech yesterday Mr Cameron set out the strict new rules migrants will face, alongside a promise to bring back control over the influx from new EU countries.
But the plans will almost certainly face opposition from Brussels, and may well be tested in the European courts unless Mr Cameron can secure the changes as part of his EU renegotiations.
His attempts to tackle the immigration hurdle facing his party appeared last night to have done little to appease the Tory right, with back bench Shipley MP Philip Davies leading the criticism.
Mr Davies, who yesterday forced an urgent Commons statement from a Tory minister, said the only way to control immigration was to leave the European union.
Speaking after figures showed 260,000 more people arrived than left the UK last year, he said: “These latest figures are not just disappointing, they are catastrophic, Is it not time that the main political parties were honest with the British public and simply admitted to them what they already know—that is, that we cannot control immigration while we remain a member of the European Union.”
The Prime Minister disappointed eurosceptic Tories by stopping short of proposing a cap on European migration, which had been floated in the run-up to the speech.
The European Commission said Mr Cameron’s proposals should be considered “calmly and carefully”, while pointing out that EU law already allows national governments to tackle abuse of benefits, though not a full ban.
The Prime Minister insisted that he still hopes to be able to recommend an In vote in the referendum on EU membership he has promised for 2017, and said he was “confident” of success in the renegotiation he plans if Conservatives win next year’s general election.
But he left no doubt that he has not ruled out recommending British exit if other EU nations refuse to compromise on the principle of free movement and accept reforms that he said were “radical” but “reasonable and fair”.
Mr Cameron, who spoke to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker before the speech, added: “We have to maintain faith in Government’s ability to control the rate at which people come to this country.
“And yet in recent years, it has become clear that successive governments have lacked control. People want grip. I get that. And I completely agree.”
Under Mr Cameron’s plans, EU jobseekers will not be allowed to claim the new Universal Credit when they arrive in the UK and will be required to leave if they do not find work within six months.
Migrants will be able to claim tax credits and child benefit and apply for social housing only after four years in the country, and will receive no child benefit or child tax credit for offspring living abroad.
Labour said the public did not trust the PM on immigration.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “David Cameron’s ‘no ifs, no buts’ net migration target is in tatters. There have been weeks of posturing, pandering and making more promises he can’t keep - all of which he has been forced to abandon today.
“Instead we need a practical plan to make sure that immigration is controlled.”