A government deaf to the wishes of the majority
By Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Daily Mail, London, 27 September, 2006
The European Commission has recommended that, subject to some rather feeble conditions, Romania and Bulgaria should be admitted to the EU with effect from next January. A new dawn or a new problem?
It is certainly a new dawn for Europe as the EU expands to the East, stabilising the discarded remnants of the Soviet Empire. But can we also expect a flood of Bulgarian bakers to join the Polish plumbers?
The Government must hope not. It burnt its fingers very badly over the first round of new members when Poland and nine other countries joined the EU two and a half years ago. Its absurdly low estimate of immigration, wrong by a factor of at least 10, still hangs round its necks.
Indeed, combined with an annual inflow of a quarter of a million from outside the EU, it has led directly to the largest wave of immigration in our history, striking a hammer blow at the Government’s credibility on this key issue.
So what are the prospects? Both the Bulgarian and Romanian Governments are playing down the possibility of large scale migration. The Bulgarian Government points to a Gallop poll which showed that “only” 11 per cent of their work force intended to work for a year or more abroad. But even that amounts to half a million people. The same poll showed that the UK ranked sixth among countries preferred by Bulgarians. It is true that Bulgarians prefer to go to Germany, Greece or Italy but, if those countries close their labour markets for the next few years, it is at least possible that they will turn to Britain instead.
There are some 50,000 Bulgarians already in Britain and others may well follow, especially given the example of the Poles.
Meanwhile the Romanian Government is making similarly unconvincing claims that only a few Romanians will emigrate – claims belied by reports that cheap flights laid on from next January are already booked up.
Nobody can be sure about the numbers. If the pattern is the same as for the first group of East European countries the inflow could be 60,000 a year. If allowance is made for their much lower standard of living it could be three times that number - but a great deal will depend on how other EU members react. The British Government would be within its rights in imposing conditions. The Accession Treaty permits 'national measures' for two years and, perhaps, a further five. The work permit regime which the Immigration Minister recently hinted at would fall within this.
However, there is a political difficulty - the Accession Treaties are virtually identical so we would be discriminating between fellow citizens of the EU. Quite apart from incurring the fury of the two foreign governments, such a regime might well be thrown out by the European Court if and when the issue reaches it.
There will also be practical difficulties. Our new EU citizens from Romania and Bulgaria will have the right to come here for three months whether or not they intend to work. And if they are self-employed, then they are free to work from day one. It is not hard to imagine that at least some will arrive as visitors and stay on with whatever work they can find.
For such people, there will be no effective sanction. Some may have no money to pay a fine and there is no room in our prisons if they don't. Nor can they be sent back to their home countries for minor offences. Even if they were, they could return on the next plane as our border controls are simply not good enough to detect them.
In the long term, freedom of movement and work for EU citizens should not lead to a flow of people in only one direction. Experience with Greece, Portugal and Spain indicates that, as their economic level approached ours, the numbers coming and going balanced out.
However, in Eastern Europe it could be another 20 years before we reach that point. Meanwhile, it is absolutely essential to reduce immigration from other parts of the world. The British people have been enormously tolerant but the strains are now beginning to show.
The British Government, therefore, needs to take very great care. Signs of a tug of war between the Home Secretary and Number 10 suggest that ministers realise what is at stake.
The imposition of work permits on Romanians and Bulgarians might have only limited effectiveness but the political message it sends would be far more important.
Failure to take action would demonstrate that the Government remains deaf to the wishes of 75 per cent of the British people who wish to see much tougher immigration rules and, indeed, a similar percentage who want to see an annual limit to immigration.
On the other hand, such a step would be the first sign that the Government has acknowledged the strength of public concern.
It would certainly be a significant victory for opponents of the mass immigration which this Government has stimulated, whether by design or incompetence.
Sir Andrew Green is a former British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Syria.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Mail, London, 27 September, 2006