by Sir Andrew Green
The Sunday Times, News Review, London,
Some days ago a newspaper published a photograph of 21 members
of a Roma family. Apparently there are another 80, all relatives and
all newly arrived since Romania joined the EU in January. A social
worker in Slough explained she had nine teenage Roma girls, several of
whom were pregnant, in her care.
In theory, Romanians and Bulgarians are subject to a special regime for a
transitional period of up to seven years. They can only come here to work
legally if they are highly skilled, have been granted a work permit or come
under a special quota for temporary agricultural workers. But there are no
checks on the borders. They only have to show a valid ID card and walk in
and they are entitled to stay as visitors for up to three months.
Back to our pregnant teenagers. Why can they not be sent home? The answer lies
in a tangled web of legal obligations. Successive children acts have placed
an obligation on local authorities to care for children in need. The Race
Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of race
or nationality; foreign children have to be treated as British. As for
access to the NHS, pregnancy is regarded (rightly) as a medical emergency so
treatment is automatic.
On top of that, the Free Movement Directive which came into force last year
severely restricts the government’s ability to expel EU nationals even if
they have committed a crime. In expanding the EU to countries which are far
poorer than our own, we have stumbled into a potential crisis.
The free movement of labour has set in hand movements of workers to Britain on
a greater scale than anticipated. At the same time “harmonisation” of social
security has placed obligations on EU governments to provide benefits in the
richer countries that greatly exceed wages in the poorer ones.