Friday, September 30, 2011

Conference time

The European Commission has threatened to take legal action against Britain if ministers do not water down rules limiting foreigners' ability to claim benefits - says Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary in The Failygraph. He adds that the commission's move is part of a "wider movement" by the "unelected and unaccountable" European authorities to extend their power over the UK.

But the story is a pile of horse manure. What the commission has actually done is "request" the UK to end "discriminatory conditions" on "the right to reside as a worker" which exclude from certain social benefits nationals from eight of the ten member states (Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland) that joined the EU in 2004.

According to the UK Worker Registration Scheme, nationals from these countries who stop work before completing one year with an authorised employer do not have the right to reside as a worker.

This right to reside is one of the conditions of UK legislation to qualify for Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Crisis Loans, and allocation of social housing and provision of homelessness assistance. Without this right to reside ("Right to Reside Test") nationals from these member states are currently excluded from receiving these benefits.

The commission considers that this is contrary to the transitional arrangements on the free movement of workers. These allowed the UK to restrict nationals from the 2004 enlargement group, refusing them permission reside in the UK until the end of April 2011.

Crucially though, these provisions already apply to the nationals of other EU member states, and the seven-year transitional arrangements were ratified by the Blair government in 2003, as part of the accession treaties. Thus, if Iain Duncan Smith has cause for any grief, it is with Blair's government, not forgetting that the Tories were in favour of enlargement and would have agreed exactly the same deal.

However, on the eve of the Tory conference, it is essential that the Tories demonstrate that they are true "eurosceptics", so here we go with faux eurosceptic stories pouring out of the woodwork, to keep the faithful happy. And they fall for it every time.