POLITICS

Polish Immigrants Not In Britain To 'Grab Benefits', Insists Ambassador

07/01/2014 14:47 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 13:17 GMT
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Poland's ambassador to the United Kingdom has defended the right of Eastern Europeans to settle in Britain and warned David Cameron not to "stigmatise" his countrymen as benefit cheats.

On Sunday the prime minister said it was "wrong" that child benefit should be paid to support workers' families who remained in Poland and outlined plans to push for a change in the EU treaties to end the practice.

Under pressure from Ukip and the Conservative right, Cameron has announced a series of measures to cut immigration, including proposals intended to show the UK is not a soft touch for EU migrants.

Writing for The Huffington Post UK on Tuesday, ambassador Witold Sobków said "there is no need to single out, to stigmatise Poles" who come to Britain "to work hard, not to abuse the system or grab the benefits".

"When we discuss immigration, let us not talk about numbers and nationalities; let us concentrate on solving the problems together, on assimilation and integration, on preventing uneasiness in neighbourhoods where there is a significant increase in population, on showing the benefits for the UK," he said.

Sobków said Britain should be proud that European citizens wanted to migrate. "You are a victim of your success," he said. "Why do foreigners come to the UK and want to work and settle down here? It is precisely because you are a great country."

The ambassador comments echo those of Poland's foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who on Monday used Twitter to attack Cameron.

He said: "If Britain gets our taxpayers, shouldn't it also pay their benefits? Why should Polish taxpayers subsidise British taxpayers' children?"

The comments by Sikorski and Sobków suggest Cameron is highly unlikely to win the necessary Polish support for a treaty change ending the EU-wide benefits rules.

Sobków told HuffPost UK while he sympathised with Britain's desire to plug loopholes in the benefits system, it should not do it in a discriminatory manner that target individual nationalities.

He said: "The free movement of people is a fundamental right guaranteed to EU citizens by the Treaties. Workers and their families have the right to move to a different Member State, to look for work and be employed under the same conditions as nationals of that State and benefit from the same social and tax advantages."

In a lengthy defence of his people, the ambassador said Poles in the UK "fill job vacancies and skills gaps, facilitate growth in the economy, pay taxes contributing the UK’s budget, maintain services to an ageing population when there are insufficient workers locally, fill pension gaps by the contributions of new young workers, bring energy and innovation, enrich the UK by cultural diversity and transform schools for the better".

He added Polish immigrants also "help some local businesses survive or make it unnecessary for them to relocate production abroad, bring benefits to the tourism industry through inviting their friends and relatives to the UK and by the new air routes, increase the productivity or efficiency at work, contribute new ideas and a fresh approach to their firms".

Yesterday Cameron's official spokesman said the prime minister's view "won't have changed" despite Poland's unease. "It is one of the points he made in his speech on migration in March last year. It remains the prime minister's long-standing view," the spokesman said.

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