Benefits brake is 'red herring' in EU debate, says Labour

The Labour party believes that the emergency brake on in-work benefits that lies at the heart of David Cameron’s EU renegotiations is a “red herring” that will do little to reduce migration.

But in a briefing note sent to all Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn, Hilary Benn and Alan Johnson implicitly accept the emergency brake as they voice support for the principle of “fair contribution”.

The note, which is designed to help Labour MPs answer questions about the EU referendum, marks a change by Corbyn, who last year rejected the prime minister’s plan to ban EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits for four years.

The Labour leader said at a meeting of the Party of European Socialists in December: “If somebody is working, paying taxes, doing a job just like anybody else, then surely they deserve access to exactly the same benefits as anybody else.”

The document compiled for the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) says Labour supports EU membership principally as the best way to protect economic growth, safeguard jobs and protect UK security.

The document also makes it clear that Labour will accept the prime minister’s emergency brake on in-work benefits. Under the deal agreed at an EU summit last Friday, the UK will be able to restrict access to in-work benefits to EU migrants on a sliding scale for four years. The brake can be in place for seven years.

The PLP document says: “We support the principle of fair contributions towards social security where people are able to do so, and action by government to prevent the exploitation of migrants to undercut the going rate in Britain.

“But the emergency brake will be ineffective in its stated aim of reducing migrant numbers. The evidence does not back up the claim that in-work benefits are a significant draw for workers who come to Britain from across the EU.

“This referendum is not about the red herring of an emergency brake, which even government ministers do not claim will reduce inward migration. It’s about the far greater question of whether to remain in the EU.”

Powered by article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for on Monday 22nd February 2016 15.25 Europe/ © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010