BRUSSELS: Britain wants a change in the rules for the free movement of people across the EU as it braces for a possible influx of Bulgarians and Romanians, Home Secretary Theresa May will tell European ministers on Thursday.
May, the interior minister, will say in a speech to her counterparts in Brussels that free access to labour markets must not lead to “mass migration”.
She will ask why some countries should not be allowed to impose a cap on numbers if European immigration reaches “certain thresholds”.
Britain was caught off-guard by the numbers of Poles who came to work there after the EU was enlarged to the east in 2004. By some estimates, one million lived in Britain at some point.
With controls on the movement of people from Romania and Bulgaria set to be lifted at the end of the year, the government is concerned by the prospect of another mass influx.
Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested that citizens from EU countries including Romania and Bulgaria would not be able to claim out-of-work benefits for the first three months in Britain.
But some EU member states have reacted angrily to Britain’s plans and have vowed to defend what they believe is a key principle of the European bloc.
Laszlo Andor, the European employment commissioner, said that Britain was in danger of being perceived as a “nasty” country if it tried to limit freedom of movement by EU citizens.
May said in a statement before the meeting that she planned to make clear “that I believe we need to change the way free movement rules work”.
She added: “First, for future accession treaties, we must be able to slow full access to each other’s labour markets until we can be sure it will not lead to mass migration.
“Second, looking ahead, we must seize the opportunity presented by the prime minister’s plan to reform the EU and address the problems caused by free movement.
“It is right that the national governments of the EU reform the way free movement rules work.”