Brussels is looking at options for Britain to restrict EU immigration if it overwhelms public services, potentially offering David Cameron an “emergency brake” as an alternative to his demands to deny benefits to migrant workers.
The search for a “plan B” on migration reform reflects deep concern about the British prime minister’s push for treaty changes to bar migrant workers from benefits, a step some EU leaders see as violating a fundamental principle of non-discrimination.
Mr Cameron flies to Romania and Poland on Wednesday to make the case for restricting migration to the UK to some of his most implacable opponents: EU talks on the proposed welfare ban are currently deadlocked.
The prime minister faced a further setback on Tuesday when the independent Office for Budget Responsibility claimed his plan to limit benefits would in any event have “not much” impact on restricting migration.
Sir Stephen Nickell of the OBR told MPs Mr Cameron’s plans were “unlikely to have a huge impact” on migration numbers, although he admitted he had not conducted any detailed work on the issue.
With Iain Duncan Smith, the eurosceptic work and pensions secretary, urging Mr Cameron to emulate Margaret Thatcher in sticking to his guns, Brussels is working on a Plan B to give the prime minister a way out of the impasse.
Although it would not officially be called an “emergency brake”, the safeguards under consideration by EU officials resemble free-movement restrictions first explored by Mr Cameron in 2014, which were vetoed as too radical by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
According to four diplomats in Brussels, EU officials have looked at a migration safety valve that builds on existing treaty exemptions to EU free-movement principles, allowing member states to curb rights on the grounds of public security, public policy or public health. “This is definitely possible,” said one EU diplomat.
Under such proposals, Britain and other EU member states would be able to temporarily adopt targeted, proportionate measures to restrict inflows and residence permits if they were able to prove that high levels of migration were putting public services such as the NHS or schools under acute strain. [...]
© Financial Times
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