EU vice president accuses UK PM of fuelling immigration fears

Viviane Reding, the vice president of the European Union, has accused the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron of risking the future of the British people by using populist, anti-EU rhetoric to try to win votes.

During a 'web chat' streamed from Brussels on Thursday 9th January 2014, Ms Reding said that the Prime Minister is misleading the UK public by claiming that Britain is under siege from an army of European immigrants who will steal British jobs and/or live off British benefits. She said that the figures show that the UK has benefited from EU immigration.

Mr Cameron's government introduced emergency legislation at the end of December to prevent EU citizens from claiming benefits until they had been in the UK for three months. The legislation would also bar those who cannot speak English from claiming benefits.

Child benefit

On 20th December 2013, Mr Cameron provoked a public rebuke from former Polish President Lech Walesa by suggesting that he would act to prevent EU citizens who work in the UK from claiming child benefit for children living in their home countries.

Under the current rules, workers from other EU countries who live in the UK are entitled to claim UK child benefit even if their children continue to reside outside the UK. Claimants are paid £20.30 per child per week for their first child and £13.40 for subsequent children.

UK newspaper The Daily Mail reports that UK child benefit is currently paid for 25,659 children living in Poland. Child benefit is also paid for more than 1,000 children in Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, France, Latvia and Spain.

Poland

Mr Cameron told Andrew Marr on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on 5th January 2014, 'it's wrong that someone from Poland who comes here, who works hard - and I am absolutely all in favour of that - but I don't think we should be paying child benefit to their family back at home in Poland'.

Many Polish politicians weighed into the debate. One, Jan Bury, a former treasury minister, is a member of the Tusk party which is the junior partner in the governing coalition. He told Poles 'As Poles, we can also say 'no' to Prime Minister Cameron and his policies. We call on Poles to boycott British retailer Tesco'.

Ms Reding said that the UK government was spreading fear about EU nationals coming to the UK to take jobs or to claim benefits, and said that these fears were 'myths'.

Invasion of foreigners is 'not true'

She said 'This supposed invasion of foreigners coming to the UK and stealing the jobs and stealing the social security and the health money. The fact and figures, and we all know this, show it is simply not true'.

In an astonishingly direct attack on the UK government she asked 'What is leadership if you just try with populistic movements and populistic speech to gain votes? You are destroying the future of your people'. She called on 'reasonable forces' in the UK to explain the true position and dispel the myths which 'have nothing to do with reality'. She said that, in fact, the UK has benefited from EU immigration.

She said 'British industry has made it very clear, putting the figures on the table and showing that the GDP of Britain rose by 3-4% because of the input of these working Europeans who come to Great Britain'.

United States of Europe

Ms Reding gave a speech on Tuesday 7th January in which she called for the establishment of 'a United States of Europe'. This phrase has a special resonance in the UK, as Ms Reding must have known. Eurosceptics claim, with some justification, that the UK signed up for a 'common market' and is now being railroaded into a 'United States of Europe'.

The UK has long been the most Eurosceptic country in the EU. A recent poll by YouGov-Cambridge found that 20% of Britons want to leave the EU and a further 40% want looser links with the Union. Only 14% of those surveyed in the UK want closer integration with the Union.

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