Britain’s already strained relationship with the European Union will likely to deepen further with the latter taking the former to court for breaking European rules on social security benefits for people who live in the UK and hold passports issued by EU member states. EU’s executive arm European Commission has filed a case against the British government in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, alleging that the UK’s tight definition of residency law does not comply with the EU standard that calls for child benefits, pension credits and allowances to jobseekers from the member states.
Citing figures from 2009 to 2011, the commission says the British government had received 42,810 applications for social security benefits from EU residents, but rejected 64 percent on the ground that the applicants had not met the UK’s definition of residency. An extra residency test applied by the UK to see if migrants are eligible to claim breaches EU law. Critics say British and Irish citizens always pass this Right-to-reside test, unlike other EU citizens, whose chances remain very low.
Britain has rejected the charges and said it always complied with EU rules. Statistics also reveal that the country has received more immigrants than any other European nations. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said he planned to fight the commission ‘every step of the way’.
Britain has a long history of strained relations with the bloc and is the strongest among 10 countries in the EU that choose not to use the euro. Prime Minister David Cameron in January promised to hold a vote on whether or not Britain would stay in the European Union if he is re-elected in 2015. The ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has received support from the opposition Labour Party and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which calls for tough immigration law and wants Britain to leave the European Union, in the current clash. After staging a big win in the recent local elections, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said his eurosceptic party could no longer be dismissed as a protest movement.
The confrontation will open a new page in UK-EU relations if the court asks the government to change its stand or imposes hefty fines on it. That will invite a tough response from Britain, including its slide towards the European exit door, which will be suicidal for both parties•