Theresa May is preparing to use Brexit to fulfil David Cameron’s manifesto promise to stop EU migrants from claiming benefits.
Senior government figures are studying whether to stop newly arrived migrants from mainland Europe from claiming tax credits and other in-work benefits. This was pledged in the Tory manifesto but Mr Cameron was able to negotiate only a temporary compromise with the rest of the EU last year. The deal was nullified when Britain voted to leave the union in June.
Now Mrs May is looking at resurrecting the idea and bringing EU migrants into line with those from outside Europe. A government source said that implementing the plan would be seen to make a difference. The change could relieve pressure on the exchequer by reducing the tax credit bill and ministers hope that it may deter some EU citizens from seeking work in post-Brexit Britain. Downing Street said no decisions had been made and sources emphasised that there was no “magic bullet” for migration.
According to the Migration Observatory in Oxford, 316,000 of the 2.28 million EU citizens in the UK receive in-work benefits, although Revenue & Customs suggests that the figure could be closer to half a million.
Mrs May is preparing to make a series of decisions about the post-Brexit immigration system, which could determine the course of trade negotiations with the rest of the EU.
She must decide whether to give EU citizens preferential treatment over those from the rest of the world, whether businesses are given hard limits on the numbers of EU migrants they can employ, and whether to allow some low-skill migration to continue for areas such as agriculture.
New entry criteria will have to be drawn up to determine who is allowed in. They could be based on the demands of specific sectors or on a simple salary threshold.