British prime minister targets immigrant aid

  • Article by: Stephen castle and Alan Cowell
  • New York Times
  • March 25, 2013 - 7:31 PM

– Prime Minister David Cameron promised more stringent rules Monday to reduce outsiders’ access to social, health and housing benefits, reflecting a fraught debate in Britain over the potential effect of increased immigration from southeast Europe that could fuel a rightist threat to his Conservative Party.

The prospect of citizens from Bulgaria and Romania gaining unfettered access to the British labor market under European Union rules has raised alarms among some Britons about competition for jobs, strengthening anti-immigrant sentiment and helping fuel the insurgent United Kingdom Independence Party.

As of next January, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to work in all 27 E.U. nations. The discussion in Britain is particularly vigorous because officials hugely underestimated the number of immigrants who would arrive after eight other formerly Communist nations joined the E.U. in 2004.

The government says that, between 1997 and 2009, net migration to Britain was 2.2 million, and the issue has become so prominent that the main political parties in Britain have been trying to reposition themselves on it.

In a speech to a university audience in Ipswich, in eastern England, Cameron began by praising generations of previous immigrants, saying “we’re rolling out the red carpet to those whose hard work and investment will create new British jobs.”

But, he also said that Britain had been a “soft touch” under the previous government and that net migration needs to come down radically from hundreds of thousands a year to just tens of thousands. “When it comes to illegal migrants, we’re rolling up that red carpet and showing them the door,” he added.

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