It is easy to understand David Cameron’s desire to make a ‘game changing’ speech on EU immigration. Voters are telling pollsters it is the issue that most concerns them, Ukip are breathing down his neck and it could be the swing issue in any future EU referendum.
However, he needs to play his cards carefully. By making a ‘big pledge’ on reducing numbers, the risk is that Mr Cameron needlessly raises expectations that are undeliverable and draws attention away from negotiable reforms to EU migrants’ access to the British welfare system that would concretely address the inconsistencies and perverse incentives undermining public confidence in free movement. These reforms would be far from simply symbolic, they would greatly increase the Government’s ability to target its welfare and employment policies at British citizens and reduce EU citizens’ incentive to migrate to the UK for low-income jobs.