UK ‘destroying future’ with immigration row: EU official
The bitter row over immigration in Europe has flared up again with a top EU official accusing UK politicians of "destroying the future of your people" by playing on fears of scarce jobs and resources. Meanwhile plans emerged of a new pan-European alliance among anti-immigration far-right parties.
Freedom of movement of the labor force is one of the founding principles of the EU. However, the expansion of the trading bloc to include ex-Communist countries like Poland and Romania has led to concerns in the U.K. that too many migrants are entering the country, claiming benefits from the U.K.'s social system and undercutting British workers.
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This is "simply not true," according to Viviane Reding, the Vice President of the European Commission.
"I am mostly frustrated about the political leaders because what is leadership if you just try with populistic movements and populistic speech to gain votes?" she said in a webchat Thursday.
"You are destroying the future of your people, actually. That is what I'm really worried upon."
The U.K.'s Conservatives, the leading party in the coalition government, is facing a strong challenge from the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), the anti-EU party led by Nigel Farage ahead of European elections in May and U.K. elections next year.
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UKIP has been courted by far-right French group The National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, who told The Telegraph: "They share our point of view on the European Union and immigration: everyone must control his borders, European technocrats must disappear, the European Soviet Union must collapse, everyone must have their own currency, their economic policy and decide in their own home."
She argued that UKIP would join her anti-EU party in the European Parliament after this year's European elections, if unsuccessful in forming their own grouping.
Farage tried to distance himself from the story, denying that UKIP would do a deal with Le Pen.
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Before coming to power, Prime Minister David Cameron famously dismissed UKIP as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists." But, after his party started losing ground to UKIP in the polls, has recently started making noises about limiting EU immigration which have angered some of his EU counterparts.
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He recently said he would try to change the U.K.'s membership with the EU to allow it to withhold child benefit from new migrants, and cited Poles living in the UK as an example, causing a diplomatic furore with Poland.
"Most of the things which are told to the people in Great Britain are myths, have nothing to do with reality," Reding said.
Her claim is backed up by research last year suggesting that British people think 31 percent of the population are immigrants – compared to the actual figure of 13 percent.
- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle. Twitter: @cboylecnbc.