Come to Slough, everyone else has.... The Legal Tangle
by Sir Andrew Green
The Sunday Times, London, 20 May, 2007
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.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green