Eastern European countries have told David Cameron they will block his renegotiation deal unless migrant workers already in Britain are exempt from cuts to child benefit. Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia yesterday said reductions in child benefit payments could only apply to new arrivals to Britain.
Tomas Prouza, the Czech Europe minister, said: “I think this is important that we don’t do the changes retrospectively, that the people already in the UK can play according to the existing rules, and those who come later already know what the new rules are.”
He said the countries understood the demand, which has already received the backing of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, would be included in the final proposals. The Prime Minister wants to cut child benefit payments to the children of EU migrants abroad by linking them to the cost of living in their home country. Tory MEP Syed Kamall admitted that other EU leaders could line up with a list of demands because they all have the power to veto the deal at a summit. The warning came as Mr Cameron was told to expect a flurry of last-minute demands from other countries threatening to wreck his proposals – potentially leading to a series of secret backroom deals.Tory MEP Syed Kamall, who leads the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, admitted that other EU leaders could line up with a list of demands because they all have the power to veto the deal at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Asked if there was a risk countries such as Greece could now come in at this late stage and say “we’ve got issues about refugees and if you don’t help we could be a problem”, Mr Kamall, who has been advising Mr Cameron on his renegotiation, replied: “Clearly.”
Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk, in Prague for talks with Czech premier Bohuslav Sobotka, confirmed EU citizens currently working in the UK would not be affected by the proposed curbs on in-work benefits. He said ‘unsolved problems’ remained and there was ‘an extra mile’ to go before reaching an agreement, with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia having concerns.
Mr Tusk said: “In the Czech Republic, as well as in other countries, the issue of access to social benefits continues to be among the most sensitive. I believe that the proposal I have put on the table is fair and balanced for all. It protects the freedom of movement, while helping the UK to address all its concerns when it comes to their specific system of in-work benefits.”
“The safeguard mechanism on access to in-work benefits is not designed to apply to EU citizens currently working in the UK. We will now have to sort out the remaining issues in a constructive spirit of trust and co-operation.”