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Hammond denies PM 'backed off'


Prime Minister David Cameron at JCB

Prime Minister David Cameron at JCB

Prime Minister David Cameron at JCB

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has denied that David Cameron "backed off" over plans to cap immigration from the Europe Union in the face of pressure from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr Hammond acknowledged that ministers had consulted with other EU member states ahead of Mr Cameron's long-awaited speech yesterday, setting out his proposals for curbing the numbers coming from Europe to live in the UK.

However, he rejected reports that the Prime Minister had dropped plans for a cap following the intervention of Mrs Merkel, who has made no secret of her opposition to any measures which undermine the principle of the free movement of labour within the EU.

"I don't think that is right. What is right is that we have sought to work with our partners in the European Union to understand the best way of delivering a reduction in immigration numbers from the EU in to the UK," Mr Hammond told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

In his address, in a JCB factory in Staffordshire, Mr Cameron set out plans to bar EU migrants from claiming welfare for the first four years after arriving in the UK and to deport those who do not find jobs within six months.

However his failure to announce a cap or "emergency brake" on the overall numbers - despite press reports that he was considering such measures - disappointed Eurosceptic Tory MPs who warned that his plans would have only limited impact.

Mr Hammond, however, insisted that with "well over" 400,000 EU nationals currently claiming UK benefits or tax credits, the proposed changes would make Britain a "significantly less attractive destination" for migrants.

"That will get the numbers down," he said.

He confirmed that some of the measures, which the Conservatives say they will implement if they regain power in the general election in May, would require changes to the EU treaties, which, in turn, would need the agreement of other member states.

"They will form part of the broader negotiation that we will have with the other members of the European Union about reform of the European Union ahead of the referendum which we are giving to the British people in 2017," he said.