UK under fire after shunning EU law on returning migrants’ benefits
The case is reviving the ferocious March 2013 disagreement between London and Brussels over how the welfare system for migrants is handled and whether the UK or the EU has the final say. Prime Minister David Cameron’s position is that of restricting everything from housing benefits to NHS care for those applying to UK jobs via the EU’s free-movement rules, something Brussels sees as only contributing to xenophobia.
Criticism this time has been directed at Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who is refusing to pay out 10 million pounds ($16.2 million) to Czech, Slovak and Polish returning immigrants who have lost their jobs in Britain and had to return home.
His actions are being called “an act of aggression” by diplomats and EU officials alike.
The three governments have all followed EU regulations and paid unemployment benefits to those citizens who had been working in the UK.
The Czech labor minister, Michaela Marksová-Tominová, told local media that Britain is still £2 million ($3.25 million) short.
The Slovaks are demanding £4.9 million ($8 million) from Britain, while the debt owed to Poland is said to be “much, much more,” according to the Telegraph.
“During a serious of meetings with the British government, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) changed its position on refund applications from Poland,” the Polish Labor Ministry said in a statement, adding that it’s “looking forward to the UK reconsidering its position.”
The ambassadors of the three EU members have asked for a meeting with Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s permanent representative to Brussels, and plan to issue an official complaint within two weeks.
Marksová-Tominová says she expects “this meeting to resolve the situation,” and insists that otherwise the three countries will go to Duncan-Smith, seeking also to discuss the matter at a gathering of EU employment ministers.
It seems that the only remaining option, if this fails, is appealing to Cameron and attempting to resolve the situation through an EU leaders’ meeting in December.
Some diplomatic sources continue to criticize the British PM for alleged double standards in accusing migrants of living off the state, while simultaneously holding out on his own promises of benefits to those who work and pay taxes in the UK.
In the UK, the threshold for benefits is two years, while in other European countries it is six months.
Europe is supporting the complaints made by the three countries, and although last year the EC had ruled against Britain in this case, its decision is not a legally binding one, and Duncan-Smith continues to refuse to pay up.
No country has ever gone against an EC ruling – a move that some home officials warn could upset the entire European system of cross-border benefits.
But Britain is in a tough spot, because it fears that if the three are successful in their case, a number of other claimants will quickly take advantage of this. Their own unemployment rates may be even higher.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said that “this government does not pay benefits to someone in another country when they would not have been eligible for them in the UK. We are working with our counterparts across Europe on this issue.”
Tory MP Andrew Rosindell said: “If they are entitled to go home and then claim more than British citizens can, then the system needs looking at,” The Daily Mail reported.
Other UK officials are sticking to that line, arguing that British taxpayers’ money is being wasted unfairly in this manner. Others argue that some countries whose citizens have paid enough in natural insurance would be eligible for unemployment benefits in the UK.
Britain is the only country in the EU which operates such a restrictive policy on benefit refunds.