Braced For EU Vote Loss, Cameron's Party Pledges Immigration Curbs

by
Reuters
British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party on Sunday promised new measures to curb immigration from the European Union as it braced for the results of European elections after losing hundreds of seats in local polls.

* PM's party lost more than 200 seats in local vote

* Conservatives braced for more losses in EU vote

* Anti-immigration UKIP party siphons off support

* Immigration from the EU is on the rise

British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party on Sunday promised new measures to curb immigration from the European Union as it braced for the results of European elections after losing hundreds of seats in local polls.

Reeling from last week's local elections in which it lost more than 200 seats after the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) siphoned off some of its support, Conservative ministers said they would go all out to toughen immigration policy.

"We will look at every avenue available to us to reduce net migration," Philip Hammond, the Conservative defence minister, told Sky TV.

"We're looking at ways in which we can deal with people coming from the European Union who are not genuinely exercising their freedom of movement to work but are abusing that freedom of movement."

Further curbs could strain Cameron's relations with some EU politicians who have complained about his rhetoric on immigration in the past, saying he is exaggerating the issue.

However, public discontent about rising immigration, particularly from poor EU countries like Romania and Bulgaria, is one of the main factors driving support for UKIP, and Cameron's party is anxious to win back disaffected voters before a national election next year.

It cannot do exactly what it wants though as it is in a two-party coalition with the Liberal Democrat party which has blocked some of its proposed policies in the past.

Opinion polls before the elections to the European Parliament last Thursday suggested the Conservatives could be beaten into third place behind UKIP and the opposition Labour party. Early results are due on Sunday from 10 p.m. (2100 GMT).

RISING EU IMMIGRATION

Data last week showed the number of EU citizens moving to Britain rose 27 percent in 2013, an awkward statistic for Cameron who has promised to reduce net migration to the "tens of thousands" by May next year, a target he is on course to miss.

UKIP argues immigration is putting unacceptable strain on public services and changing communities' identity. It plans to focus its efforts on trying to win around 20 seats in a national election next year and wants to seriously restrict immigration.

Eric Pickles, the minister for local government, said on Sunday the coalition would be announcing measures to reduce what he called "the pull factor" - the reasons why people find Britain an attractive immigration destination.

Home Secretary Theresa May, the interior minister, said the government planned to increase fines for employers who do not pay the minimum wage, a move aimed at discouraging them from hiring immigrants willing to work for less.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper said some of the new immigration measures would be unveiled on June 4 and included a law to deport unemployed EU nationals after six months and a "wealth test" to stop people coming from poor EU member states.

In a move aimed at reminding voters of the Conservatives' promise to hold a referendum on leaving the EU by the end of 2017 if re-elected next year, one of their lawmakers will try to introduce a bill making such a referendum legally-binding for all parties.

Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats are expected to back it.