UK to sue EU over “benefit tourism”


The Government will take unprecedented legal action against the EU to prevent ‘benefit tourists’ from the Ukraine and north African countries coming to Britain to collect benefits without working.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said he planned to sue the European Commission to block millions of people who could arrive on UK shores to claim state pensions and benefits.

He said he believed EU officials were trying to create a system where people from either inside the EU or from countries bordering it, were able to come into Britain and start claiming benefits.

In a newspaper interview, the minister said the EU had launched a ‘land grab’ and ‘pre-emptive action to stop this’ was now necessary.

He said: ‘We are concerned about benefit tourism, we want tighter rules. We want the rules changed and they are just not listening.

‘This is something that is catching up with us very fast. I have decided that we have to take legal action over this because what’s happening step by step is we are being forced into a situation.

‘We have got to go to the European Court and argue they don’t have the right to do this.’

The EU is currently agreeing reciprocal benefit arrangements with other countries.

Initially, this involved nations such as Switzerland and Norway which weren’t thought to prove too costly for Britain.

But now ministers have learnt negotiations have begun with other poorer nations beyond the EU’s borders and the ‘point of principle’ must be challenged.

Mr Grayling fears Britain could be flooded with people coming from poorer countries with much lower benefits and pensions.

He added:‘In recent times, I don’t think as a department we have sued them before. We have decided to take pre-emptive action to stop this and take them to court.

‘We are not going to be rolled over on this, it’s a hugely sensitive issue.’

In September, it emerged that the EU was threatening Britain with legal action following the refusal to pay some benefits to other European citizens who have not worked or lived here.

Britain has been given a two month deadline to reverse the decision but will refuse and is braced for court action. If the Commission gets its way. Britain could be hit with an extra £2.5 billion in welfare payments, making the battle to shrink the deficit even harder.

Mr Grayling said he was sympathetic to the calls from back-bench Conservative MPs for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership and that ‘renegotiation’ of the relationship was now necessary.

The action is the first sign Conservative ministers are determined to act on David Cameron’s pledge to begin renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Europe.