One of the top figures at the Office for Budget Responsibility has today blown a hole in the Government’s hopes to limit EU migration through their renegotiation. Responding to questions from MPs at a hearing of the Treasury Select Committee this morning, Sir Stephen Nickell CBE said the Government’s proposals would make ‘not much’ difference to immigration from the EU – and that ‘any changes to benefit rules are unlikely to have a huge impact on migration flows.’
Commenting, Vote Leave Director Stephen Parkinson said:
‘The Chancellor’s own independent experts have delivered a damning verdict on the Government’s plans to try to negotiate a deal which will limit EU migration.
‘People want to see the UK taking back control of our borders, but experts from the Office of Budget Responsibility have today confirmed that “any changes to benefits are unlikely to have a huge impact on migration flows.”
‘The Government is trying to manufacture a row with the EU to make its demands look more significant than they are – but the only way to get real change and to take back control is to Vote Leave.’
Notes to editors
OBR says benefits changes are ‘unlikely to have an impact’ on migration. Responding to a question from Mark Garnier MP at the Treasury Select Committee today (8 December), Sir Stephen Nickell CBE – one of the top three figures at the Office for Budget Responsibility – gave his verdict on the impact of the Government’s proposed benefit changes on migration:
Mark Garnier: As part of the negotiations of EU membership the Government is seeking to restrict access to in-work benefits to EU migrants. Do you think at any a practical level that’s going to make a change to EU migration?
Sir Stephen Nickell: Just to get this clear: changing the benefit rules for EU migration so that they become more difficult to obtain – you’re asking me what impact that’s like to have?
Mark Garnier: In your opinion, yes.
Sir Stephen Nickell: Well, in my opinion, not much
Sir Stephen went on to say:
I am prepared to say that these changes to benefits rules – any changes to benefit rules – are unlikely to have a huge impact on migration flows.
The Government claims its welfare changes will have an impact on immigration. In his letter to Donald Tusk outlining his renegotiation demands, the Prime Minister said: ‘we need to go further to reduce the numbers coming here. As I have said previously, we can reduce the flow of people coming from within the EU by reducing the draw that our welfare system can exert across Europe’ (David Cameron, letter to Donald Tusk, 10 November 2015, link).
The Government has previously admitted that it does not know what the impact of its welfare changes will be on migration. In June 2015, the Government was asked if it could ‘estimate the number of EU nationals who would not have chosen to migrate to the UK if they had not been entitled to tax credits for the first four years of their stay.’ The Government responded that ‘this information is unavailable’ (Source: Parliamentary Question to HM Treasury, 29 June 2015, link).
The Government’s plans to restrict benefits for migrants may be blocked under EU law. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the UK’s most senior civil servant, has warned ministers that a four-year restriction on in-work benefits may be ‘illegal’ under EU law (BBC News, 4 November 2015, link). Yesterday, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said the proposal was ‘the most delicate’ of the Government's proposals (EU Council press release, 7 December 2015, link).
The Government has dropped key promises on welfare and immigration made just last year. Last November, David Cameron promised that ‘we want EU jobseekers to have a job offer before they come here’ (speech at JCB, 28 November 2014, link). Yet this forms no part of the renegotiation he started less than six months later. In the same speech, David Cameron promised that ‘if an EU jobseeker has not found work within six months, they will be required to leave’ (speech at JCB, 28 November 2014, link). Yet EU law – which the Government is not seeking to change – prevents the removal of jobseekers who are seeking work and have a genuine chance of finding it, regardless of how long they have been in the UK (ECJ ruling, 15 September 2015, link).