Call for cool heads over immigration debate

Senior Euro-MP says there should be “concentration on evidence-based solutions”.

There is a case for Britain to adjust the rules for some benefits but this should not be used to fuel inaccurate stereotypes about the impact of migration, says Lib Dem MEP Phil Bennion.

The county and West Midlands MEP and Lib Dem Employment Spokesman says he has grown increasingly concerned at the direction of debate in recent days.

He said: “We need to separate spin from substance and to make sure decisions follow the evidence.

“There is a difference between the contributions-based nature of benefits in most EU states and the more universal residency-based system we have in the UK. But there is no evidence that ‘benefit tourism’ is happening on a large scale.

“It is not helpful or right to link minor changes to deal with essentially minor problems with a huge PR offensive on the UKIP agenda or to Conservative party kite-flying on plans to undermine the freedom of movement in the EU.

“The current system of EU free movement of labour does not mean free movement to access benefits without contributing through taxes.

“There are some loopholes which can be closed to stop abuses, and we can de-link eligibility for Job Seekers Allowance with other benefits if necessary. But this does not mean that UKIP’s extreme claims about the impact of migration are justified.

“The evidence is clear that overall migration has been a huge benefit to the UK and a bonus, not a drain, on the Treasury. EU migrants pay far more in taxes than they cost in benefits.

“I spoke to Employment Commissioner Lazslo Andor recently on the Eurostar to London. He believes the habitual residency test as it is commonly applied in most EU countries is robust and should continue to be used in a non-discriminatory way.

“He is concerned at the spin being attached to these announcements which makes Britain look as if it wants to be ‘the nasty man’ of Europe.

“The EU Commission has a concern to ensure member states’ different systems dovetail properly to stop EU citizens falling out of the system if they move from one country to another. But the EU does not dictate our benefits system, that has always been a member government responsibility.

“As a Liberal Democrat I’m concerned at any UK government suggestion that there is massive problem of benefit tourism, when there is no evidence to support that, or that these announcements should be a precursor of changes in the freedom of movement of labour, which is fundamental to the single market. The single market generates a benefit of between £1100 and £3300 a year for each British household. To stay part of it, freedom of movement is non-negotiable.

“We have an open and liberal jobs market in Britain – which the Conservatives used to believe in. It is because of this that we have now begun to bounce back from the recession.

“Last year we created 380,000 new jobs in the UK economy, 90% of them went to British nationals. If we threw out all the migrants because they took 10% we would destroy the flexibility which led to those 380,000 new jobs in the first place.” 

“Mr Cameron is in danger of stoking the fires of UKIP and tabloid hysteria about immigration. We should keep a cool head and concentrate on evidence-based solutions to real problems.”