Ministers have given secret assurances to the Romanian government that migrants from their country will be able to claim benefits in Britain, the Romanian Foreign Minister revealed on on Sunday.
Titus Corlatean, the Romanian foreign minister, said that he had “received official assurances from the British Government” that EU rules allowing migrants to claim benefits will be adhered to by the UK. David Cameron has pledged to make the UK the “toughest” country on benefits for foreign migrants.
He wants to ban them from being able to automatically receive legal aid in cases involving benefits, housing and other civil claims.
Ministers are also considering plans to limit the access of foreigners to free health care. Speaking on the Murnaghan programme on Sky News, Mr Corlatean suggested that the Romanian government could take legal action if the UK fails to allow migrants to access benefits.
He said his counterparts in the UK had told him they will “respect” EU directives on the issue.
“If everybody will respect this European legislation I think there is no need to continue this debate on possible legal remedies [or] sanctions,” Mr Corlatean said. He added: “We don’t speak about the Romanians as migrants, they are European citizens, we are European citizens, we are members of the European Union so we have our legitimate rights according to the EU treaties.”
His comments came amid a growing debate about the numbers of new migrants preparing to come to Britain next year.
Twenty-nine million Bulgarians and Romanians will gain the right to live and work unrestricted in Britain in 2014 under European “freedom of movement” rules.
The Home Office has repeatedly refused to put any number on the anticipated arrivals from the two countries.
Ministers are concerned that releasing the research into the possible number of arrivals will be compared with a prediction made a decade ago that only 13,000 would move to Britain from Poland and other eastern European countries after 2004.
More than one million eastern Europeans arrived in one of the biggest waves of immigration seen in the UK. However, Mr Corlatean said he did not expect there to be “a huge presence of Romanians” in the UK next year.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has said that the Government will look to restrict migrants’ access to benefits and the NHS.
“It’s important there aren’t artificial, perverse incentives for people to come to the UK,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.