David Cameron is campaigning to keep Britain in the EU on the basis of a deal that will do nothing to reduce net migration to the UK, and may actually lead to a sharp increase in arrivals as people try to beat an emergency welfare brake, Iain Duncan Smith has said.
As Downing Street came under fire from the lord chancellor and justice secretary, Michael Gove, who questioned whether the EU deal was legally binding, the work and pensions secretary said the deal showed Britain still had no controls over its borders.
In an interview on the eve of the release of the latest migration statistics, Duncan Smith said that he has warned the prime minister in private that a failure to control immigration would only encourage the equivalent of the French Front National.
“If you do not control your borders my observation is that you get parties led by people like Marine Le Pen and others who feed off the back of this, and ordinary decent people feel life is out of control,” the work and pensions secretary said.
The statistics are likely to fuel the debate over immigration to Britain from the EU, one of the most contentious topics in the referendum.
But Downing Street received a boost on Wednesday night when Christine Lagarde, the French managing director of the IMF, warned of the dangers of a UK exit from the EU. “My hunch … is that it is bound to be a negative on all fronts,” she told CNN.
Duncan Smith has now become the second cabinet “outer” to raise questions about the EU deal after No 10 was forced onto the defensive following Gove’s claim the agreement could be overruled by the European court of justice.
Gove and Duncan Smith spoke out after Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, issued fresh guidelines that banned officials from providing ministers backing the leave campaign access to departmental documents drawn up since the prime minister agreed his EU deal. The Guardian understands the guidelines were drawn up with the specific intention of preventing Duncan Smith from commissioning officials to carry out research to prove his doubts about the welfare elements of the EU deal.
But Duncan Smith showed that he still remains a potent force in the referendum campaign when he told the Guardian that the deal would do nothing to bring down net immigration. Stressing that he did not know the figures to be released on Thursday, he said: “I would lay even money that they follow the trend over the past two quarters showing an ever-increasing number of migrants from eastern Europe. So is this agreement negotiated in Brussels going to limit the numbers coming into the UK? My answer to that is no. The truth is, there is one clear way that we could be sure to deliver on that manifesto commitment – and that’s to regain control of our borders.”
The work and pensions secretary offered some support for the prime minister by saying that a four-year emergency brake to limit access to in-work benefits for EU migrants, which can remain in force for seven years, will “send a signal” that people should contribute before claiming benefits. But he said the new system could actually increase migration as workers seek to beat a deadline.
Noting that the brake will not come into force until April 2017 at the earliest, he said: “Anyone with any thought of coming to work in the UK in the foreseeable future will have a motivation to get over here and establish residency (even if only for a week) as that would in all likelihood qualify them for an exemption from the brake later.”
Britain may even find that the European Commission and European parliament may be in no mood to help out after a yes vote. Warning that Britain can only guarantee the reforms if it threatens to hold a second referendum, he said: “By that stage [after a yes vote] the pressure is off for them to do anything. We are reliant on their good will. They may well decide they have no need to rush this through and they can fiddle with it to suit them. Unless we are planning a second referendum, we are in the EU’s hands.”
Duncan Smith was scathing about one of the key elements of the deal – the plan to index child benefit to the cost of living in an EU migrant’s home country. He warned that the new system would be “fiendishly complicated” and was “bound to cost more” than the “relatively tiny” £30m that goes on child benefit to EU migrants. “If you have a Polish national (cue HMRC working out cost of living in Warsaw), who says that actually their child is resident in a country with higher cost of living ... then how the hell would you check this/ police it”?
Duncan Smith, a member of the cabinet committee on the EU negotiations – some of whose members felt they were not properly briefed by the prime minister – warned that George Osborne’s new national living wage would act as a “significant pull factor”. Downing Street has prompted Duncan Smith to revise a long-standing calculation – that Britain’s in-work benefits do not encourage migration – after the European-wide publicity of what he regards as Britain’s generous system.
“It may well be because there has been so much publicity in countries like Poland and in eastern Europe generally that some people know more about our benefits system than they did. Certainly there has been a lot of publicity – a highly proficient awareness raising campaign. Do people react to publicity? They do. It was not the purpose of the negotiations, of course, but it may be one of the by-products is that we see an increase in people coming here.”
The intervention by Duncan Smith caps a difficult 48 hours for Downing Street, after the prime minister upset the Leave camp by humiliating Boris Johnson in the Commons by suggesting that he was motivated by personal ambition. In one of the biggest blows to No 10, it was forced to apologise to General Sir Michael Rose, the former SAS commander, after wrongly including him in a list of former military chiefs who oppose the UK leaving the EU.
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