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2014 04 JUN

Cameron's chances of renegotiating EU immigration rules good, reckons Major

David Cameron has a good chance of renegotiating the EU's fundamental immigration rules after the rise of populist movements across Europe, Sir John Major has said.

The former Tory prime minister said people might be surprised about what Cameron manages to achieve in terms of a new settlement with Brussels as national leaders in Europe have recognised the need for change and Britain has "allies today which in the 1990s we, frankly, didn't have".

Major said it was right to hold a referendum to remove "bitterness" about Europe in British politics. But he dismissed the idea of leaving the EU entirely, saying it would cost billions and it was nonsense to believe Britain would still have free access to the single market. He also predicted the appeal of Nigel Farage's Eurosceptic. UK Independence party, would not last as it is "not a very tolerant" movement.

Cameron faces a tricky situation with EU immigration because reducing the number of new arrivals is likely to require changing the fundamental right of citizens to live and work elsewhere in the bloc. The European commission has said free movement is non-negotiable and senior Conservatives are split on whether to promise an overhaul that might not be delivered.

Cameron has said people should have the freedom to work in other EU countries, but not the freedom to move to claim benefits.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday, Major said: "I think you may be surprised. Of course, nobody can be certain what will happen, but as the prime minister has said himself, free movement of people cannot be unqualified and I think that is very important … I think the difficulties that we're facing are difficulties that we're not going to be facing alone and I think that does begin to change the circumstances.

"Now, I can't predict what can happen. Free movement of capital, trade and people is one of the fundamentals, but I think that is an issue that will have to be addressed by governments other than us. And I think there are some things that could be done, as the prime minister's already said, free movement to take up work, not benefits.

"I don't think you can have an absolute restriction on movements, but maybe you could qualify it in different ways and I think that is something that would find an echo in many European governments, as well as here."

After a dinner in Brussels this week, Cameron said he was making progress and confirmed free movement of people was one of the issues up for discussion.

The prime minister has promised to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU if he is still in power by the end of 2017.

Source: The Guardian

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