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IPPR: Many unanswered questions on emergency brake

Ahead of a potential deal on Britain’s renegotiated relationship with the EU, think tank IPPR raises four difficult questions on the proposed ‘emergency brake’ to restrict in-work benefits for EU migrants for four years:
• What conditions would need to be met for the emergency brake to be pulled? There is little evidence that EU migrants place a heavy burden on the welfare system or have a negative impact on the UK labour market. EU migrants tend to be less likely to make use of DWP-administered benefits than UK nationals (though they are more likely to be in receipt of tax credits) and unemployment levels have hit a 10-year low despite high EU migration. On the other hand, high levels of inward EU migration to the UK could potentially be used as an objective justification in order to trigger the brake.

• Who would decide whether the emergency brake can be pulled? Some reports have suggested that the European Council will decide whether a member state can pull the emergency brake. But there is a risk for the Prime Minister that they would block a UK request. On the other hand, if the European Commission has the final say, then such a deal may struggle to receive public support in the UK.

• For how long could the emergency brake be used? Reports have suggested that the Prime Minister is arguing for in-work benefit restrictions to be in place for seven years, before permanent changes can be agreed. But such an extensive ban may not be countenanced by other EU leaders.

• Is the proposal possible without treaty change? If not, then it will require ratification by all 28 member states. On the other hand, a change to secondary legislation would only need a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers (as well as a majority in the European Parliament).

Marley Morris, Research Fellow at IPPR, said of the proposed deal:

“There are many unanswered questions about this newly touted ‘emergency brake’. Who should decide when it can be used? What objective measure should be used to determine whether it can be pulled? And how high should the bar be set? If – as No 10 sources suggest – the UK’s current circumstance would trigger the use of the emergency brake, then how is this agreement materially different to the UK’s original proposal, which was rejected as discrimination by other EU leaders? If the Prime Minister can overcome these political and legal hurdles, then a deal may be in sight.”


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Notes for editors

After negotiations with European Council President Donald Tusk this weekend, no deal has yet been reached. If a deal can be found, Tusk is expected to publish a draft text of the agreement tomorrow. However, the nature of the agreement on the most contentious area – freedom of movement and welfare – is still very unclear. No 10 has signalled a significant step forward on the UK’s proposal to limit in-work benefits for EU migrants. A No 10 source says the Prime Minister has found agreement for the UK to pull an ‘emergency brake’ to restrict benefits immediately after the EU referendum.

IPPR has published two briefings on how the Prime Minister can negotiate changes to EU free movement rules as part of the current negotiations:

On changes to EU migrants’ access to benefits:

On changes to free movement rules relating to crime, public services, labour markets, and integration:

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