Fraser Nelson

An EU ruling that Cameron must fight

An EU ruling that Cameron must fight
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A showdown with the EU may come sooner than we expect. The European Commission has today threatened to sue David Cameron’s government unless it starts letting EU citizens come here to claim benefits. Until now, any EU citizen could live here, but if they couldn’t find work, they were not entitled to claim benefits. This was widely accepted. Today, the EU has issued a statement saying:

‘Under UK law, certain social security benefits - namely Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, State Pension Credit, Income-based Allowance for Jobseekers, Income-based Employment and Support Allowance - are only granted to persons with a "right to reside" in the UK. Other EU nationals have to fulfil additional conditions in order to pass a so-called 'right to reside' test. This means the UK indirectly discriminates against nationals from another Member State.’

But, at a time when Hungary is sending its unemployed off to labour camps, there now is a real prospect of welfare tourism: people coming here and signing on and asking for a council house too. The British government may hate it, but they’ll be told – by a judge in Luxembourg if necessary – that this is what’s going to happen.

A simple issue is at stake: who governs Britain? Just a few months ago, a Latvian who arrived here in her 60s sued because the £50-a-week pension sent from Riga wasn’t enough. Tough - ruled Lord Hope, deputy president of the Supreme Court. British benefits are not given to foreign nationals for a good reason: to “prevent exploitation of welfare benefits by people who come to this country simply to live off benefits without working here”.

The UK Supreme Court is today exposed as a chimera. Lord Hope has today been reminded who’s boss. No matter what’s written on his business card, the Supreme Court of the UK lies in Luxembourg. Its judges, and not the elected British government, will decide who qualifies for British benefits.

Cameron has to fight. The British government is paying for 5.7 million on benefits now: this is much too much, without being ordered by Brussels to provide benefits and housing for anyone who turns up and claims it. Even those, like me, who defend mass immigration can’t make the case for an influx of the welfare dependent. It threatens to destroy public support for immigration. But above all, this story takes us closer to the big question: is the £9bn a year cost of EU membership something we simply can’t afford?