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UK’s Cameron to unveil immigration curbs on eve of EU meeting

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron gestures as he speaks at a general practice surgery in Birmingham

By Andrew Osborn

Prime Minister David Cameron will outline measures to stem near-record immigration levels on the eve of a European Union summit he wants to use to tentatively start renegotiating Britain’s ties with the bloc.

Speaking in London on Thursday before flying to an EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Latvia, his first foreign trip since his re-election on May 7, Cameron will say he plans to make illegal working a criminal offence and to give authorities the power to seize illegal earnings.

Cameron is under growing pressure to cut rising immigration fuelled by his country’s strong economy. Official data released hours before he was due to speak showed net annual migration hit a near high of 318,000 in 2014.

Cameron’s focus will be largely domestic, but the timing of his speech will be seen as a message to EU leaders about how important the issue is to him. Cameron is expected to remind them he wants the bloc to agree to allow Britain to sharply restrict EU migrants’ access to its welfare system.

“A strong country isn’t one that pulls up the drawbridge … it is one that controls immigration,” Cameron will say, according to an advance text of his speech.

In a potentially hopeful sign for Britain, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said he had invited Osborne to Berlin to discuss possible reform. Germany wants reform of euro zone rules, something that could potentially be done at the same time as Britain’s renegotiation.

George Osborne, Cameron’s finance minister accused the EU of sleepwalking out of the global economy. Britain’s Europe debate has alarmed some firms and Airbus became the latest to say a British EU exit would involve huge risks.

Cameron, who promised but failed to reduce annual net migration into Britain to less than 100,000 during his last term, has pledged to reshape Britain’s ties with the bloc before holding an in-out EU membership referendum by the end of 2017.

He wants to force EU migrants to wait four years before accessing a range of welfare benefits and to win the power to deport jobless EU jobseekers after six months.

If the renegotiation is completed early, Cameron has made clear he might hold the referendum before 2017. But he is under pressure from some of his own Eurosceptic lawmakers to take his time getting what they consider to be a meaningful settlement.

Some EU countries, such as France, have ruled out the prospect of the bloc changing its founding treaties to suit Britain. But British officials say Cameron remains convinced he will need such changes.

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Reuters News Service

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