Home Secretary Theresa May has called for the free movement of people within the EU to be limited to those who have a job.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Ms 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.”
Ms May’s call came days after new figures showed that net migration to Britain was an estimated 330,000 in the year to March. It was the highest number of record.
Europe has been shaken by a string of recent migrant tragedies. Just days ago, 71 migrants, including four children, were found dead in a lorry in Austria.
In the Mediterranean, about 250 people died as two boats full of migrants capsized last Thursday in the latest tragedy at sea. The bodies of two suspected migrants found floating in the Mediterranean were recovered by the Italian Navy on Saturday.
Ms May said the deaths of migrants should be a “wake-up call” for Brussels that the Schengen agreement, which Britain is not a part of, has “exacerbated” the “tragedies”.
“Its leaders must consider the consequences of uncontrolled migration – on wages, jobs and social cohesion of the destination nations; on the economies and societies of the rest; and on the lives and welfare of those who seek to come here,” she wrote.
Ms May’s call for limits to the freedom of movement is likely to irk EU partners at a time when David Cameron is renegotiating the terms of Britain’s relationship with Brussels ahead of a referendum.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has previously said the free movement of people is a non-negotiable pillar of the EU.