Iain Duncan Smith: Alliance-building in Europe

IDS plots two-year benefit freeze for new immigrants

IDS plots two-year benefit freeze for new immigrants

By politics.co.uk staff

Britain is attempting to block immigrants from the European Union from accessing benefits for up to two years, in a dramatic move prompting outrage from Brussels.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith revealed he was in talks with a number of other European countries over how EU rules could be changed to make it harder for new arrivals to swiftly claim benefits.

"There is a growing groundswell of concern about benefit tourism,” Duncan Smith told the Sunday Times newspaper.

He explained he wanted immigrants to "demonstrate that you are committed to the country, that you are a resident and that you are here for a period of time and you are generally taking work and that you are contributing".

"At that particular point… it could be a year, it could be two years, after that, then we will consider you a resident of the UK and be happy to pay you benefits," he added.

David Cameron has prompted hostility from Poland and other EU states by moving to increase the period which new arrivals in Britain have to wait before they can receive welfare payouts to three months.

That has already prompted some to question the legitimacy of the move, which could break freedom of movement agreements.

Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament, told the Observer newspaper: "The principle of free movement of people has been one of the greatest successes the EU has.

"It is a fundamental principle and it's not up for negotiation any more than renegotiating the principle of the free movement of goods, services or capital."

But Duncan Smith insisted Britain was "right in the middle of a large group of nations saying enough is enough".

He said freedom of movement rights "should not be a licence to pick the country that you can get the best benefits out of, travel there unemployed without any prospects of work and claim benefits from day one, which is what the commission says you should be able to do".

IDS' offensive has emerged as other Conservative Cabinet ministers prepare to place more pressure on Brussels.

Chris Grayling called for a "completely new relationship with the EU" in an article for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

And George Osborne is preparing a speech at a looming Open Europe conference on the EU, where he is expected to argue Britain is not alone in calling for reform.