Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg has caused a stir with coalition partners after pledging to stand in the way of more curbs on immigration.
The Liberal Democrat leader has already agreed to tougher rules for migrants’ access to benefits ahead of the lift on temporary work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians in January.
Mr Clegg has said his party ‘draw the line’ at the decision and would block Conservatives if they made further threats to the EU’s freedom of movement principle before the general election in 2015.
He wrote to a national newspaper to outline his stance two days after Prime Minister David Cameron warned Britain would veto further expansion of the union’s borders unless reforms were agreed to crack down on ‘benefit tourism’.
Mr Clegg said: “Sticking a big no-entry sign on the cliffs of Dover may be politically popular but at a huge economic cost.
“What would happen if tonight every European living in the UK boarded a ship or plane and went home? Are we really that keen to see the back of German lawyers, Dutch accountants or Finnish engineers?
“Do we want the NHS to fall over and the City of London to grind to a halt?”
The move is likely to anger Tory backbench MPs who are demanding restrictions on social housing and benefits for migrants are extended for five years, which threatens to flout European law.
Under the rules coalition partners have agreed that Bulgarians and Romanians arriving in the UK in 2014 will have to wait three months before they can get certain payouts.
Mr Clegg said: “Walking away from Europe would cripple the economic recovery that’s been so hard won.”