‘EU migrants will be barred from claiming in-work benefits unless they have been employed for at least four years after Brexit under plans to revive a pledge by David Cameron. The Telegraph understands that ministers are examining plans to bar migrants who arrive in the UK after March 2019 from claiming in-work benefits.’
The important question, of course, is exactly which date has the news has transported Korski back to?
Anyone thinking about Cameron pledging four-year restrictions on migrants’ access to welfare might naturally recall the offer he secured in the EU negotiation, published on 2nd February 2016.
Does this mean, then, that taking back control by leaving has just left us choosing to do something that would have been possible anyway in Cameron’s much-heralded ‘reformed relationship’ with the EU?
Bluntly, no. While most have a hazy memory that Cameron got agreement on some kind of four-year welfare limit, it’s worth checking back over the facts of his deal.
As I wrote at the time:
‘The famous four-year period before EU migrants can claim in-work benefits has been thoroughly watered down. Instead of a ban the proposal is now for migrant workers to progressively gain more and more access to welfare as the four year period passes. Tellingly, what was once “at least four years” has, in the EU’s document, become “up to four years”. When the Prime Minister was asked yesterday how long someone arriving in the UK would wait before receiving their first welfare payment, he was unwilling to answer, saying that “details” were yet to be finalised. Not only is the policy fundamentally weakened, but it will not be permanent – only an “emergency brake”, to be applied occasionally and temporarily. Worst of all, the power to apply that brake will not rest with Parliament or the British Government, but will be decided by the EU institutions after an application from Britain.’
In short, if we were staying in the EU the most we could hope for would be a tapered limit on some aspects of welfare at an unspecified rate during “up to four years” – and even then as a temporary measure, conditional on Brussels granting us the right to do so.
By contrast, outside the EU the Government will have the democratic power to choose on its own terms a proper, clear limit as a lasting policy, rather than having to beg a fudged version of it as a one-off favour from the EU institutions. One prominent Conservative has described such a policy like this:
“I think it’s a very simple thing to explain to people, very clear. In future, if you are from the European Union and you come to Britain looking for a job, we will not pay you unemployment benefit, point 1. If you stay for longer than 6 months without a job, you will go home, point 2. If you get a job and you stay here in Britain, you will not get in work benefits, housing benefit, Universal Credit, all the other benefits. You will not get those until you’ve paid into the system for four years, point 3. Point 4, if you come here and you work and, even after the 4 years when you get those in work benefits, if your children and your family is at home in your home country while you’re working here, the child benefit will not go from Britain to that country, point 4. Those, I think, are very significant very clear changes, changes that I think every family in Britain will identify with, understand and support…I think it’s very clear, very powerful, far more powerful than any mechanism determined by the European Commission or anyone else.”
That does indeed sound like a sensible and popular idea. But it isn’t from today, or from the negotiations in 2016. To hear those words, Korski’s time-warp would have had to transport him back to November 2014, when Cameron spoke about exactly what he would ask for from the EU in the negotiations that lay ahead.
What has been announced is what Cameron wanted, but which he was unable to get from the EU. Instead, he was left offering a version that had been watered down to homeopathic proportions. That rejection by Brussels is one reason why we then voted to leave. Now that the UK is leaving – and only now – we can pursue these “very clear changes, changes that I think every family in Britain will identify with, understand and support”. The Ghost of Cameron Past is presumably applauding, even if the Ghost of Cameron Present is unlikely to be spotted doing so.