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EU official accuses U.K. of immigration distortions

FILE - A Monday, March 5, 2012 photo from files showing European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Viviane Reding addressing the media at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)

LONDON: The British government is threatening the country's future by stirring up unfounded fears about immigration, a senior European Union official has said - comments that drew an angry response Friday from Britain's governing Conservatives.

EU Commission Vice President Viviane Reding accused the British government of using a "supposed invasion of foreigners" to distract attention from the country's real problems.

"Most of the things which are told to the people in Great Britain are myths, have nothing to do with reality," she said in an online question-and-answer session earlier this week.

Reding said statistics showed EU immigrants were an economic boon to Britain, and accused Britain's political leaders of using "populistic speech to gain votes."

"You are destroying the future of your people, actually," she said.

Britain's Conservative-led government - threatened electorally by the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party - has used increasingly tough rhetoric about migrants, especially those from the EU's poorer eastern European members.

Labor-market restrictions across the EU for people from Romania and Bulgaria ended Jan. 1 - fueling fears, especially in Britain's populist press, of a tide of unemployed migrants.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's government has taken an increasingly tough tone on immigration, proposing to limit new arrivals' access to welfare benefits and charge migrants for some health services.

The rhetoric has annoyed some of Britain's EU partners. This week Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk chastised Cameron for using "unacceptable words" in making comments about Poles who work in Britain and claim U.K. child benefits for their families back home.

On Friday, Conservative lawmaker Mark Reckless accused Reding, Tusk and others of using heated rhetoric over Britain's immigration measures.

"I think the measures taken by the government have been quite moderate and actually I think it's these European politicians ... who seem to have been stoking this thing up," Reckless told BBC radio.

 

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