Most think the government should go ahead with stricter immigration rules regardless of their legality in EU law – and there is huge support for the new rules proposed

January 1st, 2014, the day Bulgarians and Romanians are granted the same rights to live and work in the UK as other EU citizens, has become something of hurdle for politicians. There are no official predictions, but estimates of the number of new immigrants arriving from the two countries range from 13,000 to 50,000 each year.

To mitigate fears, David Cameron this week announced tougher rules on EU migrants. In a Financial Times op-ed, he wrote that none will be able to claim benefits for their first three months in the UK; that, after this, they will only be able to claim for a maximum of six months unless they can prove they have a genuine prospect of employment; and that the people not here to work – found “begging or sleeping rough” – will be removed and barred from re-entry for 12 months.

But there are questions over the legality of the measures: on Tuesday EU officials warned Cameron that freedom of movement is “non-negotiable”, a “fundamental principle that must be upheld”. The (53%) majority of British adults, however, say the government should go ahead with the new rules regardless, even at the expense of Britain’s position in the EU, according to a new YouGov poll conducted for the Sunday Times. 33% say the rules should be implemented only after the courts find them compatible with EU law.

And on the specific measures, there is huge support. 89% approve of barring out-of-work benefits to migrants in their first three months. 83% support stopping jobseekers allowance payments after six months unless they will find a job. And 80% support sending begging or homeless migrants back to their own country. 56% even say the new rules are not harsh enough.

Although worries over the possible influx of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria abound, there is some doubt that the restrictions due to be lifted ever worked in the first place. Bulgaria’s ambassador Konstantin Dimitrov said he had never heard of a work permit application being turned down, despite Border Agency staff being under orders to refuse requests if a British worker could fill the role.

Image: Getty

See the full Sunday Times poll results

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