Tom Goodenough

Why won’t David Cameron come clean about his EU migrant benefits deal?

Why won't David Cameron come clean about his EU migrant benefits deal?
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For the last three years, David Cameron has held out the prospect of voting 'no' in the referendum if he could not get the deal he wanted. Today he has - unsurprisingly - claimed victory. Yes, he says, there's more to do on the draft deal - but it not too much because what he's got is enough. He's already in full referendum campaign mode, so made his statement to workers in Chippenham, saying:

'If I could get these terms for British membership, I sure would opt in'

But how much of a compromise has it been? Cameron looked a little shifty as he was spoke ‘emergency brake’ on in-work benefits for migrants. His manifesto pledge is clear: he wanted to deny in-work benefits to immigrants for four years. As Isabel has explained, he has ended up with something far less than that. So how to explain?

'What we've got is basically something I've asked for which is that people should not be able to come here and get instant access. What is proposed is an emergency brake. I was told I would never get that. I think that is a very big change - something that we were told we wouldn't get.'

This isn't quite true: the PM has been told that he could phase in the restriction of benefits to migrants over a number of years. So how can he gloss over this? He also appeared elusive when quizzed on the timings for when in-work benefits would first arrive in the bank accounts of migrants who came to Britain. When asked about this, the PM said:

'The details aren't set out'

Really? The document sets out the details quite clearly, indicating that the limitation - far from being an 'emergency' - should be 'graduated' and 'gradually increasing'.

His manifesto pledge was denying in-work benefits (i.e., tax credits) to migrant workers for four years.

We will insist that EU migrants who want to claim tax credits and child benefit must live here and contribute to our country for a minimum of four years. This will reduce the financial incentive for lower-paid, lower- skilled workers to come to Britain.

So, he was asked, did he get this demand? "Four years is in the document" he said. Well, yes - but so are a lot of other things that he doesn't mention. The EU will allow a four-year suspension, but under several conditions.

"The implementing act would authorise the Member State to limit the access of Union workers newly entering its labour market to in-work benefits for a total period of up to four years from the commencement of employment. The limitation should be graduated, from an initial complete exclusion but gradually increasing access to such benefits to take account of the growing connection of the worker with the labour market of the host Member State. The Council implementing act would have a limited duration and apply to EU workers newly entering its labour market during a period of [X] years, extendable for two successive periods of [Y] years and [Z] years. "

So after the UK has to request an "exceptional situation" status - the Commission has separately said that this would be granted under the current conditions. But rather than receive no benefits for four years, they'd get none at first then progressively more over the next four years. Not quite what Cameron said in his manifesto.