David Cameron’s plans to clamp down on EU immigration have been dealt a fresh blow as Angela Merkel indicated that she would block any attempt to curb free movement within the block.
The German chancellor said her country was not willing to compromise the “fundamental principle” of free movement within the 28 nation bloc. Her intervention comes days after Mr Cameron threatened to introduce quotas for EU workers in a bid to find a way to wrest control of its borders back from Brussels.
The issue is a key battleground for next year’s general election as the Conservatives attempt to a stave off a potential swing towards Ukip on the back of their hard-line anti EU and immigration policy.
Mrs Merkel said that she was open to changes which to limit EU immigrants claiming benefits inappropriately.
“These are controversial issues that are debated also in our country,” she told the Sunday Times. “I am of the opinion that they need to be resolved in a way that tackles abuse.
“On the other hand, we must not interfere with the fundamental principles of free movement in Europe.”
Mrs Merkel’s comments will also pile fresh pressure on the prime minister days after he was told that Britain faced a demand to pay an extra £1.7 billion into EU coffers.
Mr Cameron said said that he will not pay the top-up fee by the December 1 deadline and said the row would push Britain another step towards leaving the union, but his objections were dismissed by the European Commission. The party was forced to admit, however, that George Osborne had known of the impending bill for several days without warning the prime minister, while the Treasury has faced questions over why they did not realise that the UK was likely to face surcharges under a reassessment of member states’ economic growth.
As public sentiment towards the entire European project hardens, Mr Cameron has asked for “one last go” at winning back powers over Britain’s borders ahead of a planned in/out referendum if the Tories win next year’s election.
They risk losing momentum on the issue to Ukip’s anti-EU stance, as a poll carried out by Opinium for the Observer showed that almost one-third of voters would be prepared to back Nigel Farage’s party if they believed it could win in their own constituency.
It comes after the prime minister pledged to limit immigration to “tens of thousands” before the last election – a promise that he has not come close to fulfilling.
The Tories have explored a number of proposals to limit migrant numbers including bringing in an “emergency brake” on immigrant numbers. All have been firmly opposed by EU leaders, while the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker underlined the position by announcing that promoting freedom of movement should be among the bloc’s aims.
The EU is a nightmare. Why didn’t they just leave as free trade area (like NAFTA)? Why on earth did they think they should combine their countries into one — even their currencies (although the UK did not join the Eurozone).
Now the citizens of Europe have almost no control over the laws governing their countries. Germany can tell the UK what to do.