As this country prepares to open its borders to yet another wave of Eastern Europeans…
By Sir Andrew Green
How many more can Britain take?
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Daily Mail, London, 27 December, 2006
The government have taken a big risk. It has been forced by domestic political pressure to ‘do something’ about immigration from Romania and Bulgaria.
The labour heartlands have had enough. The BNP are making inroads and the chairman of the Labour Party, Hazel Blears (herself a former Home Office Minister), is clearly rattled. She is reported to have said recently that immigration is set to explode as an issue before the next General Election in a way ‘unseen before in UK politics’.
Perhaps the government should be applauded for making some effort, at last, to reduce immigration. The problem is that their measures won’t work so they can expect a continuous stream of negative news stories.
Crunch time is next Monday. Romania and Bulgaria become full members of the EU and their citizens acquire the right of free and unrestricted access to Britain.
Are we about the see another wave of East European immigration? Will Bulgarian builders be hot on the heels of Polish plumbers? How many will actually come? What will they do? And how much does it matter?
This time round the British Government is saying nothing about numbers. Very wise. After their absurd errors over the massive inflow from Poland, nobody would believe them in any case.
Taken together, Romania and Bulgaria add another 30 million to the EU. Officially, their unemployment rates of 8 – 10% are well below those of Poland at 15%, but their people are even poorer.
With an average income in both countries that is less than a third of average income here in Britain, there must be a risk of considerable migration.
The Bulgarian government are playing all this down. It say that very few Bulgarians plan to emigrate and that, in any case, most of them prefer the warmer climes of southern Europe.
The catch here is that Greece and Italy might keep their labour markets closed, as they did for the first eight new members. If so, the UK will look much more attractive. With the Polish example before them it is hard to believe that there will not be quite a few tempted by the thought of wage rates four or five times those at home in Romania and Bulgaria.
There is also the mystery of the Macedonians and Moldovans. 50,000 have lodged an application for Bulgarian passports and 20,000 ‘foreigners’ already have one. These are people with Bulgarian parents or grandparents who are entitled to Bulgarian nationality.
Why should there be this sudden rush of applications unless the whole purpose is to emigrate to the EU?
Very similar considerations apply to the large number of Moldovans seeking a Romanian passport. As Moldova used to be a part of Romania, the numbers again are considerable.
So far, the only estimate of immigration to Britain is a guess by the Institue for Public Policy Research that 56,000 will come in the first year.
This assumes that the proportions will be similar to the first wave of eight countries. However, British Government research suggests that there is a close link between wealth per head and the likelihood of emigration from Eastern Europe to the UK.
If the government's own methodology is applied to Romania and Bulgaria the answer comes out at 180,000 in the first year. That is a very unlikely scenario, but it serves to illustrate the degree of uncertainty.
Ironically, we may never know the true answer. No record is kept of who comes and goes from Britain. From January 1, Romanians and Bulgarians will not need a visa. Like all other EU citizens, they will be able to show their passport and walk straight in. This time round there will not even be the registration scheme that applies to the first eight countries. The theory is that there will be a quota of 20,000 for low skilled workers in agriculture and food processing whilst skilled workers will have to apply for a work permit.
There will be no restrictions whatever on the self-employed who have the right to work anywhere in the EU. This is a regime with more holes than a Swiss cheese.
All Romanians and Bulgarians have a right to come and live in Britain for three months. After that they are supposed to move into a ‘free movement category’ such as worker, self-employed, student, etc.
You do not have to be Einstein to work out that you could in that time either find a job on the black market or declare yourself self-employed and thus legally present in the country.
There are some who say that immigrant workers come to find jobs and that, if there are no jobs, they will not come.
There are two snags about that belief. First, strange as it might seem, immigrants do not ‘fill vacancies’.
The Government repeatedly claims that they do, and that seems to be common sense. Yet, despite net immigration approaching one million aver the past five years, vacancies in the British economy remain unchanged at 600,000. So the claim is demonstrably false.
The reason? Immigrants fill some vacancies but also generate additional demand and thus create new vacancies, as the government does, is to promote an endless cycle of immigration.
The second snag is that, if anyone accepts a low enough wage, they are likely to get a job. There are plenty of British workers earning £8 an hour who could be replaced by East Europeans at the minimum wage of £5.30.
We are already seeing that process on a limited scale. One such case hit the headlines earlier this month when 16 British glaziers were laid off, only to be replaced the following week by 16 East Europeans. If that should develop on any significant scale, the Government will be in deep trouble.
Yet it could well happen. The chairman of a large construction company was recently quoted as saying that his labour costs would be 20% cheaper if he employed Polish sub-contractors.
He said that most of his competitors were now pricing at Polish rates. So he faced the prospect of putting British workers, who had been with him for 25 years, on the dole if he was to remain competitive.
Are we as a country really happy, he asked, to put our own workers on the dole and use cheaper labour from Europe?
For the time being, the Government can only hope for the best and keep repeating its myths about the value of this migration. Unfortunately, ministers’ own figures show that 95% of the first wave of East Europeans are earning less than £8 an hour.
As a result, they are paying half the amount of tax and national insurance that a British worker pays. For so long as they are mainly young, single and healthy, this need not matter too much - but none of us stay like that for ever.
Despite the recent focus on immigration from Eastern Europe, the latest Government statistics show that four out of five immigrants are, in fact, from outside the EU.
This underlines the fundamental point that the Government have allowed border controls to crumble, immigration to balloon and our social cohesion to be threatened.
All this has happened against the wishes of a large majority of the British people and, certainly, without consulting them. The day will come when they pay a heavy price for their disregard of deeply felt public concern.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Mail, London, 27 December, 2006