Peter Lilley, who introduced the right-to-reside test, says the legal challenge is an example of the commission trying to extend its power. Photograph: Paul Cooper/Rex
The government has pledged to fight demands to ease restrictions on EU immigrants' access to benefits, after the European commission said it was taking the UK to the European court of justice over its alleged discrimination against EU nationals who have been living and working in the UK.
EU nationals face an extra test to see if they are eligible to claim benefits in the UK, which the commission argues goes beyond the standard eligibility criteria for welfare payments.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the right-to-reside test was a vital and fair tool to ensure benefits were paid only to people legally allowed to live in the UK. "It is absolutely imperative that we do all we can to protect our benefits system from abuse by migrants," said a spokesman.
"The right-to-reside part of our habitual residence test is a vital and fair tool to ensure that benefits are only paid to people who are legally allowed to live in Britain. We have always been clear that we believe our rules are in line with EU law. If the commission decides to begin legal proceedings, we will fight vigorously to ensure that our benefit system is protected from abuse by migrants."
A source close to the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, insisted he would not cave in to legal action over the right-to-reside test.
The commission is poised to make a formal announcement, but Duncan Smith has indicated he will "see them in court" if they try to strike out the test.
"He will not be dictated to on what he can and cannot do," the source said. "It is his responsibility to do all that he can to stop abuse and benefit tourism in this country."
Speaking on the BBC's Today programme Peter Lilley, the Conservative former secretary of state for social security, who introduced the right-to-reside test, said the legal challenge was an example of the European commission trying to extend its power. He added that the UK was not alone in objecting to interference from the commission on the way the right to benefits is decided.
"The European commission is now saying that our jobseeker's allowance is not social assistance, even the non-contributory bit of it. That seems to me flying in the face of their own rules, but in any case is an attempt by them to extend their competence into areas where the treaties say they shouldn't be involved," said Lilley. "To extend it to others would be costly, unwelcome, undemocratic, not approved by parliament and I hope we will strongly resist this."
Adam Weiss, legal director of the Advice on Individual Rights in Europecentre, who made the original complaint to the commission, said British and Irish citizens always passed the right-to-reside test but other EU citizens did not.
"What EU law says is that in relation to these benefits, discrimination based on nationality is prohibited, so it is not fair, it is not lawful, to discriminate, to favour British and Irish citizens on the one hand and to discriminate against citizens of other EU member states on the other hand," he said.
He added that in many cases EU citizens who had been living, working and paying tax in the UK were denied benefits such as state pension benefit and child tax credits.
Lilley said the commission's action boosted the prime minister's efforts to pull back powers from Brussels. "It does strengthen the case for David Cameron seeking to get power back to this country to make our own laws rather than allowing this creeping competence of law-making being extended to Brussels even in areas where every single country decided it should be reserved for itself," he said.
DEPOIS VIVEMOS ACIMA DAS NOSSA POSSIBILIDADES.UNS BELOS INTERNACIONALISTAS A GOVERNAREM O MUNDO POR CONTA DO INDIGENATO.SEM RECIPROCIDADES EM LADO NENHUM A NÃO SER UMA CERTDÃO DE ÓBITO SEM DATA...