Home Secretary Theresa May has called for the free movement of people within the EU to be limited to those who have a job.
It comes as EU ministers are to meet on 14 September to discuss measures to tackle the migrant situation which has “taken on unprecedented proportions”, said officials.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Mrs May said that EU rules were “the biggest single factor” preventing Britain from reaching its immigration targets.
“When it was first enshrined, free movement meant the freedom to move to a job, not the freedom to cross borders to look for work or claim benefits,” she wrote.
“Yet last year, four out of 10 EU migrants, 63,000 people, came here with no definite job whatsoever.
“We must take some big decisions, face down powerful interests and reinstate the original principle underlying free movement within the EU.”
Mrs May’s call came days after new figures showed that net migration to Britain was an estimated 330,000 in the year to March – the highest number of record.
Europe has been shaken by a string of recent migrant tragedies. Just days ago, 71 people, including four children, were found dead in a lorry in Austria.
The CBI responded to the Home Secretary’s comments with John Cridland, CBI Director-General, saying:
“The evidence shows that the vast majority of people coming from the EU to the UK come to work and benefit our economy.
“Our hospitals and care homes couldn’t function without overseas workers; building sites that we need to deliver more homes and big infrastructure projects would also stall, for example.
“But the system must be about freedom to work, not for the minority who do not contribute, so the Government should continue to work with our European partners to make sure the rules are fit for purpose for everyone.
“We’d be concerned if EU workers had to be hired for a job before coming to the UK though, as this would cause issues for firms without the capacity to advertise and recruit across the whole of Europe.”