Restricting benefits paid to new EU migrants would not put people off wanting to move to the UK, a former European Commission president has said.
Jose Manuel Barroso said plans for an “emergency brake” on in-work benefits for migrants was a creative compromise but would not reduce immigration.
He said the EU would be “weaker” if the UK voted to leave in a referendum.
PM David Cameron wants EU leaders to agree to a draft package of reforms to the UK’s EU membership this month.
Leaders will debate the proposals in Brussels on 18 February. Mr Cameron requires the approval of all 28 EU members for the package, which includes plans on benefits for migrants.
‘No, frankly not’
Speaking to BBC’s Newsnight, Mr Barroso described the UK as “one of the most important shareholders in Europe”.
But the former Portuguese prime minister said: “The way the British look at Europe is frankly different from the way France, or Germany do.”
“It is not only Britain that cares about sovereignty, we all want the rights of our country respected,” he added.
He was speaking after Mr Cameron said the draft deal aimed at keeping Britain in the EU would deliver “substantial change”.
The deal includes an “emergency brake” on in-work benefits paid to EU migrants and paves the way for the UK’s referendum to take place as early as June.
However, when asked whether the proposed measures on in-work benefits would put anyone off from coming to the UK, Mr Barroso replied: “No, frankly not”.
Levels of immigration would be dependent on future labour market conditions, he said.
“People who want to go to Britain, if the basic rights of the people are ensured, they will be willing to go but of course with slightly different conditions,” he said.
Mr Barroso, who stood down from the European Commission last year after ten years as the EU executive’s president, said, “everyone wants Britain to remain”.
Reacting to his interview, a spokesman for Vote Leave – which is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU – told the BBC: “Even the EU’s biggest advocate knows the PM’s renegotiation is trivial.
“The final package won’t bring powers home, won’t cut the cost of Brussels and won’t fix the fundamental flaws at the heart of the European project.
“If the PM can’t even get his own side to back the deal, why should the public? The only safe option is to Vote Leave.”
It comes as papers released ahead of next week’s crunch summit suggested any agreement on changes to the UK’s membership of the EU would be “legally binding”.
Draft conclusions of the summit, issued in advance, state any deal would be “fully compatible with EU treaties”.
If Mr Cameron can secure agreement, he is expected to proceed with an in-out referendum on the UK’s membership by the end of June.
Further reading on the UK’s EU referendum
EU renegotiation: Did Cameron get what he wanted?
Referendum timeline: What will happen when?
The view from Europe: What’s in it for the others?
Read more: www.bbc.co.uk