Britain’s PM wins praise from French far-right

France's far-right National Front party showered UK Prime Minister David Cameron with praise on Monday after the British premier announced curbs on immigrants' access to welfare benefits and healthcare.

Britain's PM wins praise from French far-right
Marine Le Pen (left), who heads the far-right National Front party which praised UK PM David Cameron (right) for his stance on imigrants. Photos: AFP

"The Front National hails the speech by the British prime minister which has smashed the taboo surrounding the unsustainable cost of immigration for European nations," FN vice-president Louis Aliot said in a statement.

"At a time of mounting unemployment and widening deficits, it has become urgent to start giving priority to our own nationals in jobs, housing, social benefits and health."

In a speech on Monday, Cameron unveiled plans which will restrict migrants' access to unemployment benefits and introduce a two-year residence qualification for social housing.

The prime minister also promised a crackdown on so-called "health tourism", suggesting immigrants from outside the European Union would have to prove they were legally resident in Britain to receive free treatment.

Cameron's speech has come under fire for over-playing the idea that Britain has become a "soft touch."

Research suggests immigrants to Britain contribute far more to the economy than they take out and are significantly less likely to claim benefits than British-born citizens.

Doctors' representative body the British Medical Association (BMA) said the problem of health tourism had been exaggerated and has warned that its members will not get involved in checking patients' immigration status.

Cameron's speech was widely seen as an attempt to stem a trend which has seen many supporters of his Conservative Party shift their allegiance to the anti-immigration, anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP).

If sustained, the trend threatens to cost the Conservatives any chance of retaining power in the next general election, which is due by 2015.

In France, the FN is campaigning for French nationals to be given preferential treatment in access to social housing and for jobs where an employer has a choice between equally qualified candidates.

The far-right party, led by Aliot's partner Marine Le Pen, also wants family allowance, currently available to all households with two or more children, to be stopped for families originating from outside the EU.

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Tens of thousands march against far-right in France

Tens of thousands of people across France on Saturday marched against "attacks on freedoms" and what organisers said was a growing influence of far-right ideas ahead of next year's presidential elections.

Tens of thousands march against far-right in France
A "Freedom march" called by several organisations, associations and trade unions to "combat extreme right-wing ideas" on June 12. credit: SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP

Members of more than 100 left-leaning organisations participated in the “Liberty March” in cities and towns across the country.

The protests were the first opportunity for a divided left to take to the streets after a year and a half of Covid-19 restrictions.

Organisers reported 70,000 participants in Paris and 150,000 around the nation, while the Paris police and interior ministry put the numbers at 9,000 in the capital and 37,000 nationwide.

The interior ministry said 119 rallies had taken place.

In Nantes, western France, around 900 people rallied, according to the local prefecture, including scores of far-left militants who clashed with police.

In the Mediterranean port of Marseilles, more than a thousand demonstrators marched behind a CGT union banner that called for “unity to break down the capitalism that leads to fascism”.

Protesters vented against issues ranging from recent legislation they say chips away at liberties, such as a law that could see prosecutions for publishing images of police officers in action, to what they charge is a creep of far-right ideas into the mainstream ahead of next year’s elections.

In the southern city of Toulouse, a 54-year-old teacher and union activist who gave his name as Gauthier remarked that students had begun to challenge him and warned that “extreme right ideas are gaining ground”.

Far-right ideas “are no longer the monopoly of far-right parties and … have now largely penetrated the political class,” said Benoit Hamon, the Socialist presidential candidate in 2017.

In Paris, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon had flour thrown in his face as he spoke to reporters.

A suspect arrested later in the day claimed to be a “sovereigntist” who social network specialists said broadcast far-right commentary on YouTube.

The move against Melenchon, who has been accused of fuelling conspiracy theories ahead of the presidential election, came days after President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face while shaking hands with people on a regional visit.

Other events that have caused concern in France recently are allegations of ties between far-left figures including Melenchon and Islamists, a YouTube video that simulated the execution of a militant from his France Unbowed party, and university gatherings at which Caucasian participants were allegedly not allowed to speak.

Jordan Bardella, vice president of the far-right National Rally (RN) party, dismissed the demonstrations on Saturday as a bid to deflect attention from Melenchon’s remarks on terrorism and the 2022 presidential election.

Groups that took part included Socialists, Communists, ecologists and trade unions.

READ MORE: Calls for nationwide day of demonstrations in France against ‘far-right ideology’