The Prime Minister David Cameron announced a number of new measures to prevent immigrants from other parts of the EU from accessing social welfare benefits, ahead of Romania and Bulgaria becoming full EU member states on January 1, next year.
His plans were promptly criticised by Brussels, with the EU Commission saying the freedom of movement rules for people within the bloc were "non-negotiable."
Political Editor Tom Bradby reports.
In his strongest statement yet, Mr Cameron said the "freedom to claim benefits" is not one the government should recognise, and that the government was responding to the public's migration concerns.
The new rules include the following:
- New immigrants will not be eligible to claim jobseekers benefits for the first three months.
- After this period, an EU national will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months.
- There will be new minimum earnings threshold to prevent access to benefits such as income support.
- Newly arrived jobseekers will not be able to claim housing benefit.
- Beggars or those sleeping rough will be removed and barred from re-entry for a year.
- There will be a clampdown on those who employ people below the minimum wage - with fines of £20,000 for every underpaid employee.
The plans were dismissed and criticised from Brussels as "an unfortunate over-reaction" whilst UKIP said benefits would remain "far too generous".
The European Commission said the rules on freedom of movement were non-negotiable, and had to be accepted if the UK wanted to remain inside the bloc. Viviane Reding, vice-president of the EU Commission, said:
Free movement is non-negotiable.
If Britain wants to leave the single market, you should say so.
But if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it Mr Cameron!