| 10.5°C Belfast

PM sees 'common ground' on migrants


Prime Minister David Cameron has made it abundantly clear that there will not be a review of the Barnett Formula in the near future

Prime Minister David Cameron has made it abundantly clear that there will not be a review of the Barnett Formula in the near future

Prime Minister David Cameron has made it abundantly clear that there will not be a review of the Barnett Formula in the near future

There is "common ground" on the need to reform EU free movement of labour rules, David Cameron has insisted after talks with fellow northern European leaders.

The Prime Minister acknowledged there were "different perspectives" but said there was backing for the idea that the ability to move between European Union countries was "not an unqualified right".

Mr Cameron had faced resistance from counterparts at the Northern Future Forum in Helsinki, with Sweden's premier Stefan Lofven warning measures to restrict EU migration could "ruin" the union.

But speaking at the conclusion of the summit, Mr Cameron said he had had "a good discussion" about Britain's concerns.

"There are different perspectives, but I think there was common ground last night on a number of points," said Mr Cameron.

"One is that the concept of free movement is a right, but it's not an unqualified right. I think that's important.

"I think the other important issue is that there are a number of areas, particularly relating to welfare and benefits, where there are problems and issues ... I think all of the countries round the table last night said that these are things that need to be looked at."

Mr Cameron said that the countries at the Forum faced different pressures, with some seeing large inflows of migrants and others experiencing declining population and labour shortages, but he added: "I found it a very good discussion, a very solid discussion, and one where there was perhaps elements of more agreement than you might think."

The forum's host, Finnish PM Alexander Stubb, agreed that the right of free movement was "not unqualified".

He acknowledged that the movement of workers from eastern Europe to the UK had created "tremendous pressures on both the education system ... and the NHS".

But he said the UK "should be awarded a medal" for opening its borders in 2004, when former eastern bloc countries including Poland joined.

Mr Stubb said: "We have to have a look at this whole balance, and this is speaking of a country which is the most international country in the world. For us, this is not an anti-immigration approach at all.

"On the contrary, the UK should be awarded a medal for opening its borders in 2004. But if the UK has a problem, we have to look at those sensitivities."

Mr Cameron restated his determination to seek a renegotiation of Britain's membership of the EU before putting the question to an in/out referendum in 2017.

"I'm very conscious that my job is to represent the views of the British people and answer their concerns," he said.

"My belief is that they would like to remain part of the European Union, but only if it can be reformed and changed in a way that addresses British concerns. I'm confident that that can happen, but in the end it'll be a choice for the British people by the end of 2017."

Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said it was a "no-brainer" that reform was needed but insisted that remaining in the EU would benefit both the UK and the union.

He sai d: "I think that Britain is much better off and more prosperous when inside the European Union, and the European Union is much better off and more prosperous when Britain is a member of the European Union.

"Of course it should be reformed, of course the European Union should be dynamic always. This is self-evident, a no-brainer.

"We do have similar feelings and ideas in terms of some aspects of where the European Union should go - more single market, more trade between each other, more trade between Europe and the US, generating new standards for the world.

"There's a lot to do, and I think we are better off doing it together - Brits, Estonians, Latvians, Finns and all the others."

The Prime Minister has made regaining powers over immigration a "red line" in his renegotiation of Britain's EU membership terms, ahead of the planned 2017 vote.

But Mr Lofven told the BBC: "The fact that one country believes that one thing is wrong does not mean that we can change because every country might have its own priorities and that may just ruin the European Union.

"I think it's wrong because that means that every country can find their own solutions on different issues.

"If you first create a common market with common rules and then if the individual countries are supposed to change that on their own, then I mean soon we do do not have a European common market."

Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt told the BBC: "There is no doubt that there is high immigration in the UK. That's a fact.

"We have the freedom of movement. This is a good thing for Europe. But we have to have a discussion about how we can maintain our specific welfare states in each member state."