- PM blasted for his 'unintelligent' plans to restrict handouts for migrants
- Mr Cameron on collision course with Brussels over crackdown
- Lord Mandelson also rejects notion of 'benefit tourists' and insists immigrants benefit UK economy
David Cameron has been accused of stoking 'kneejerk xenophobia' by a European commissioner over his 'unintelligent' accusations of benefit tourism among EU migrants.
Responding to the Prime Minster's speech last week in which he vowed to restrict access to housing benefits and the NHS for those coming to the UK under EU free-movement rules, the European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, László Andor, told the Observer his claims were misleading.
'There is a serious risk of pandering to knee-jerk xenophobia,' he said. 'Blaming poor people or migrants for hardships at the time of economic crisis is not entirely unknown, but it is not intelligent politics in my view.
'I think it would be more responsible to confront mistaken perceptions about immigration from other EU countries and so-called "benefit tourism", and instead to explain the facts.
'The reality is that migrants from other EU countries are very beneficial to the UK's economy, notably because they help to address skills shortages and pay more tax and social security contributions per head, and get fewer benefits, than UK workers; that free movement of workers is a key part of the single market; that hundreds of thousands of UK nationals work in other EU countries.'
The blistering response suggests Mr Cameron, who pledged to tighten residency tests for migrants from the EU and the wider European Economic Area, is heading for a confrontation with Brussels if and when he tries to secure agreement for such an approach with other member states.
European law says that before EU citizens who are 'not active in the labour market' become eligible for social security benefits, they have to pass a strict 'habitual residence test' proving they have a genuine link with the UK.
Brussels says the tests are stringent at all levels and existing rules, agreed by the UK, prevent benefit tourism.
The current tests are already the subject of legal disagreements between the UK government and the commission, which believes there are cases in which the UK is already breaching EU law, the paper reports.
Former European commissioner and Labour cabinet minister Lord Mandelson - now co-president of a cross-party campaign to promote a positive role for the UK in Europe called British Influence - also rejected the idea that citizens from EU states come here to 'sponge'.
He said Britain needed workers when economic times were good and said the country would have to attract them again in the future, and added a similar number of Britons left the country to work in Europe.
In his speech, widely seen as a response to the rise of Ukip, Mr Cameron said 'ending the something-for-nothing culture is something that needs to apply in the immigration system as well as in the welfare system'.
He pledged that 'by the end of this year and before the controls on Bulgarians and Romanians are lifted, we are going to strengthen the test that determines which migrants can access benefits'.
He also said: 'We're going to give migrants from the EEA - from the European Economic Area - a very clear message. Just like British citizens, there is no absolute right to unemployment benefit.
'The clue is in the title: jobseeker's allowance is only available to those who are genuinely seeking a job.'
Mr Andor added the commission had asked the British government on many occasions for evidence but none had been forthcoming.