THERE is a loud sound of fluttering in Whitehall - the sound of chickens coming home to roost. As we prepare to open our borders to workers from Eastern Europe, it has finally occurred to the Government that there could be problems.
Reports of thousands of Roma packing their bags for a move to Britain have triggered headlines here - and, indeed, in Eastern Europe. What is going on? Why should they choose Britain? Is it serious? And, if so, why was it not foreseen?
In principle the expansion of the EU to the East is very good news - both for them and for us. For them, it provides a stable framework for countries adrift after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are returning to their historic and cultural roots in Central Europe.
For us, it is welcome news at the international level. The more members in the EU, the more the power of France and Germany is diluted and the looser will be the eventual Union.
But the devil is in the detail and, surprise, surprise, the Government have not thought it through.
The eventual aim is to 'harmonise' economic conditions throughout the Union so that poorer countries catch up with the rest and a huge stable economy results - one which can compete with and, indeed, stand up to the United States.
So far it has worked quite well. The last recruits - Spain, Portugal and Greece - are steadily catching up and Western Europe is settling down to a future together.
However, this process depends on the free movement of capital and labour. The first has some problems. The second many more.
In the present case, the free movement of capital is leading to the diversion of substantial amounts of investment to Eastern Europe. Good for them but it means, at least to some extent, the export of manufacturing jobs from Western Europe.
But where we have tripped up is over the free movement of labour. It worked last time. There was no massive movement of labour from Spain, Portugal and Greece - indeed, after some years there was a flow of migrant workers back home.
Two things are different this time. One is that the wealth gap between the EU and the candidate countries is even wider. The other is that EU citizens are now, broadly speaking, eligible for benefits in other countries of the Union.
The original purpose of harmonising social security was to encourage the free movement of those who wished to seek work in other EU countries.
What was not foreseen at the time was that there might be groups of people in accession countries that might migrate for purposes other than to seek work.
So why should Britain be particularly in the frame? Because we, alone among major EU countries, have opened our labour market to workers from Eastern Europe from the day they join - the May 1 this year.
Greece, Sweden, Ireland and Holland are doing the same. Denmark is retaining tight control of her labour market. Other countries are continuing to require work permits for a transition period of up to seven years.
It is pretty clear that the British Government took this decision without thinking it through. They are acutely aware that, in Britain, there is a thriving black market for labour over which they have absolutely no control.
So they decided to let the newcomers work legally and collect the taxes. No thought was given to the numbers, still less to the persecuted minorities such as the Roma and the possibility that they would, so to speak, jump on the bandwagon.
Indeed, the Government Paper estimating the numbers was published after the decision
It suggested that the total flow would be between 5,000 and 13,000 a year.
Migrationwatch UK – the independent think tank of which I am chairman - reviewed its paper and the available evidence and found that the Government's estimate was virtually worthless. Indeed, its top estimate was below the number of people who tried to enter Britain from the candidate countries last year.
Because the Iron Curtain, in place for 50 years, prevented virtually all migration there is no relevant historical data. You have to make an informed guess. Ours, at Migrationwatch, was that perhaps 40,000 East Europeans would come to Britain every year but we also pointed to two wild cards - the Roma and the Russians.
There are 1.5 million Roma in the accession states, some of whom have already tried to enter Britain as asylum seekers. Indeed, special checks were introduced at Prague airport to deter them.
The other wild card is the 1.5 million stateless Russians in the Baltic States. Sent there originally by Stalin to place a Russian stamp on the area, they have not been granted citizenship and have not, for largely economic reasons, returned to Russia. From May 1, they will be free to come to Britain to seek work.
Perhaps the Government was not entirely deaf. When the relevant Bill came before the House of Lords, it slipped in a clause permitting it to impose restrictions if there was evidence of serious disturbance to our labour market.
But by then the damage had been done. We had given the clear impression that Britain would be an open house for whoever felt like coming. In a last minute panic, the Government is now paying £1million to the International Organisation for Migration to run a publicity campaign in Eastern Europe.
The theme appears to be - if you come seeking work you are welcome but if you come seeking benefits you are not. There is a serious risk that this campaign will backfire by drawing attention to the possibilities rather than deterring potential migrants.
What an unforgivable mess. All the Government can do now is to hold its breath and hope against hope that there will not be a significant movement into Britain.
It is well aware that there will be a fierce backlash if it all goes wrong.
If so, it has only itself to blame. It has been far too slow in getting to grips with these issues.
To give him his due, David Blunkett has made a start on false asylum seeking. He has taken on the immigration industry and the lawyers who, together, cost us £5 million every day. But he is still not removing failed asylum seekers of whom four out of five stay on illegally.
Above all, he has done nothing to restore our border controls. Every year we issue 1.5 million visas yet, incredibly, nobody checks these people in or out of Britain. Indeed, the Home Secretary has admitted on television that he 'hasn't a clue' who is in this country.
Instead of focusing first on getting some order into the system, he is actively promoting additional immigration.
Quite apart from this ill-considered decision on Eastern Europe, he has quadrupled work permits to 175,000 a year plus dependants, and he has significantly widened several other schemes for importing workers. He has said publicly that he sees ‘no obvious upper limit to legal immigration'.
All this is having a huge impact on our country and its future. Last year, nearly 250,000 additional foreigners came to Britain and 90,000 British citizens left. This adds more than 150,000 a year to our population or 1.5 million every decade.
Then there are the illegal immigrants. Last year 50,000 were detected attempting to enter Britain. At least the same number must have succeeded. Others will have overstayed their visas. It is perfectly obvious that the total must be at least 200,000 a year or two million every decade.
Contrary to popular perceptions, our population is not falling. Even on the Government's own figures the population of the UK will increase for 30 years - by more than five million, of which three million will be due to immigration.
Furthermore, the population of working age will also increase for the next 20 years, mainly because women will be working longer.
The Government does its best to wriggle out of any serious discussion of the numbers but they cannot conceal the impact - especially on London and the South East where 75 per cent of immigrants settle.
According to a report issued last November by the No.10 Strategy Unit, the inflow of international migrants to London has doubled over the last decade to 200,000 a year.
Meanwhile, the number of Londoners leaving the capital for other parts of Britain has risen steadily to 230,000 a year. This is an exchange of population on a truly amazing scale.
One immediate impact, according to the same report, is that the number of commuters will increase by 10 to 20 per cent over the next seven years. Where on earth are the extra trains to come from in such a timescale - not to speak of extra roads?
Housing is another serious concern which the Government is ducking.
Migration Watch has calculated, using the Government's own formula, that immigration on the present scale will increase the housing requirement by one million over the next 25 years. Put another way, one in four new houses will be for immigrants.
Where on earth are we going to put all this housing?
The astonishing thing is that all this is happening without the British people being informed, let alone consulted. The Government simply declare that it is all for our economic benefit.
The Government repeatedly claim that immigrants contribute £2.5 billion more to the Exchequer than they cost. This is the keystone of its argument so we looked at it very closely. It turned out to be another 'dodgy dossier'.
The Government plucked an apparently useful fact from the depths of a long report, dropped all the caveats, and repeated it endlessly. Shades of Iraq and the 45-minute Weapons of Mass Destruction claim?
When we came to examine the report itself, we found that it cautioned at least six times that the results were uncertain, that some of the evidence was contradictory and that too much stress should not be placed on a particular figure.
Not only that, but they chose a year in which the public accounts were in surplus so everybody was contributing more than they took out.
But the real howler was that they overlooked the fact that immigration is now adding to our population so there are huge additional costs for the extra infrastructure required which the authors simply ignored. Such is the quality of the 'evidence' on which the Government relies.
Obviously any additional person is likely to add something to total production. But the real test is what happens to our gross domestic product, or wealth, per head.
Every major study into immigration has shown that the benefit to the host population is trivial - about one tenth of one per cent of GDP per head each year.
People must realise this because poll after poll shows that 80 per cent of the population wish to see much tighter immigration control including, very importantly, 52 per cent of the ethnic minority communities.
As on Iraq, as on Europe, the Government is arrogantly flying in the face of clearly expressed public opinion. It is only a matter of time before it must face the consequences.
Sir Andrew Green is the former British Ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia.
© Copyright of Sir Andrew Green
The Daily Mail, London, January 24, 2004