British Prime Minister David Cameron has been praised by the French far right National Front for “smashing the taboo” on European immigration.
France’s far-right National Front (FN) has praised British Prime Minister David Cameron after he said Tuesday he would stop immigrants receiving welfare benefits after six months.
“The Front National hails the speech by the British prime minister which has smashed the taboo surrounding the unsustainable cost of immigration for European nations,” FN vice-president Louis Aliot said in a statement.
“At a time of mounting unemployment and widening deficits, it has become urgent to start giving priority to our own nationals in jobs, housing, social benefits and health.”
Bad news for Cameron?
Praise from the FN may not be the best news for Cameron, who is keen to avoid the accusation of pandering to the far right.
Nevertheless his speech, in Ipswich, eastern England, was a direct response to growing anti-immigration sentiment in the UK that is playing into the hands of the anti-European Union UK Independence Party (UKIP).
His ruling Conservative party, falling behind the opposition Labour Party in the opinion polls, desperately needs to claw support back from UKIP as Britons warily anticipate the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to full EU membership in January 2014.
UKIP, along with swathes of Britain’s right wing press, are anticipating a wave of immigrants from these countries.
The UK a ‘soft touch’
In his speech on Tuesday, Cameron said that the UK was considered a “soft touch” to potential immigrants.
And concern about immigration, he said, would not go away until it was bought under control: “If you get this balance right … it will fall away as a political issue.”
Immigrants from the European Economic Area, which includes EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, can claim around £71 a week (83 euros a week) in unemployment benefits in the UK, called Jobseeker’s Allowance, as soon as they arrive.
Cameron said that this allowance would be stopped after six months unless newcomers could prove they had a realistic chance of finding a job and spoke English to a high standard.
Cameron also said his government would clamp down on so-called “health tourists” coming to the UK to take advantage of the country’s National Health Service (NHS), which gives free healthcare to all UK residents, paid for through compulsory National Insurance payments.
The NHS, he said, was a “free National Health Service, not a free International Health Service”.
The prime minister came under immediate criticism for pandering to anti-immigration sentiment while offering little that was actually new.
Ed Milliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, pointed out that British job centres already recommend ending benefits for migrants after six months.
And Jonathan Portes, head of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research thinktank, told the BBC that EU migrants add “far more than they take out” from the British economy.
A recent Opinium/Observer poll for the Guardian newspaper had the UKIP favoured by an unprecedented 17% of voters nationwide, just ten points behind the Conservatives and well ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
Late on Tuesday UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Cameron’s proposals would do little to stem the flow of immigrants into the country.
“This is all smoke and mirrors,” he told reporters. “The only way to stop mass immigration from EU states and prevent abuse of the British welfare system is to leave the EU.”