Theresa May has insisted that a Conservative government would still seek changes to EU freedom of movement, a day after the European commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncke , ruled out major changes to the rules.
The home secretary told an audience of female politicians on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on Wednesday that David Cameron had not given up on securing amendments to freedom of movement before putting the UK’s membership of the EU to a vote in 2017.
She said: “The crucial part of that, of course, is immigration from within the European Union and we’ve set out very clearly the principles on which we would be looking to renegotiate in relation to free movement in the European Union as part of the Conservative party’s commitment – and that would be based, for example, on the principle that people couldn’t just come here and claim benefits, that they’d have to put into the system before they could draw out of the system.”
On Tuesday night, Juncker had appeared to soften his opposition to Cameron’s demands for renegotiation, saying he wanted the UK to get a “fair deal” from its membership. However, he also appeared to rule out changes to the major principle of free movement – which allows citizens to settle in any member country.
He told the BBC: “I do exclude major treaty changes as far as the freedom of movement is concerned – but other points can be mentioned.”
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has already made clear she does not want to touch the basic principle of free movement within the EU.
Donald Tusk, the European council president, described treaty change as “mission impossible” and likened it to opening Pandora’s box. Last year, Juncker described free movement as a basic and non-negotiable principle of the EU.
Earlier this month, a European official told the Times: “No treaty change proposals are envisaged until after November 2019, the end of Mr Juncker’s mandate as president of the commission.” The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, then accused the prime minister of offering a work of fiction as his manifesto as treaty change was not on offer.
However, Cameron has remained convinced that he can persuade other EU member states of the need to change freedom of movement rules.
Unveiling his plans in November, the prime minister conceded that the measures to ban immigrants from receiving state benefits, including tax credits and social housing for a minimum of four years, would need treaty change and therefore the agreement of all 28 member states.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th April 2015 13.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010