With a comfortable re-election victory in his pocket, British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to move ahead with a promise to reform the U.K.’s immigration policies to stem the massive flow of migrants into Great Britain. The foremost policy in that reform package is to require migrants, including those from elsewhere in the European Union, to live in the U.K. for a minimum of four years before they are eligible for social benefits like public housing and financial assistance. Cameron is expected to face stiff opposition from his EU counterparts.
The foreign-born population in the U.K. has more than doubled from 1993 to 2013, according to the Migration Observatory at Oxford University. There were just under 8 million foreign-born residents living in the U.K. in 2013. All party leaders admitted concerns over the influx of migrants during the general election campaign. Labour’s now-former leader Ed Miliband proposed a two-year waiting period for benefits, while Euroskeptic migration hawk and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage wanted a five-year waiting period. The Scottish National Party didn’t speak of major reforms, and the Liberal Democrats were in line with the Conservatives.
Cameron and his Tory colleagues also want to tighten border control and introduce a 20,700-person annual cap on non-EU migrants, which would cut migration to a less than a tenth of what it was last year, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. Net migration peaked in 2005, but rates over the last five years have remained high: Net migration between September 2013 and September 2014 was 298,000, up from 210,000 the year before. Emigration levels have remained stable since 2010, but migration into the U.K. continues to climb: Nearly 300,000 non-EU migrants came between September 2013 and September 2014, while EU migrants jumped to 247,000 from 202,000 during that same period.
Cameron’s reforms would have to be a part of a new EU treaty, because the EU’s current rules require member states to provide social benefits to EU citizens. The reforms would require a unanimous vote in the European Council, which is made up of each of the leaders of each of the EU’s 28 member states, but that appears highly unlikely.
While former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk currently holds the council presidency, Poland announced as far back as December of last year that it would veto any sort of reforms that would cut the benefits of EU citizens. Cameron will have to press on, however, as he’ll have to answer to the migration hawks in his own party, whose support is crucial to the Conservatives, which now hold just a 12-seat majority in parliament.