The Immigration Furore 2013: Bulgarians & Romanians On The Horizon:

According to the “Daily Mail” newspaper, Tony Blair (British Prime Minister 1997-2007) is considered “a hero” – in Poland. On the 28th January, he was awarded a “golden statuette” at a Polish Business Leaders’ ceremony in Warsaw’s National Opera House. Why? Because (as reported by Mail journalist Tamara Cohen) he had made it possible for “hundreds of thousands of Poles to come and live in the UK”. There are an estimated 625,000 currently residing in Britain and (as noted by The Guardian) “Polish has become the second language in England & Wales”. Blair didn’t turn up for the Warsaw event, but accepted his prize via a videoed message.

Cohen’s colleague on the Mail, columnist Stephen Glover – while acknowledging that the Poles are “a charming and delightful people” – condemned the presentation as “ a sick joke” and “unbelievable”. In his opinion, by permitting “an increase of 3.8 million in the foreign-born population” into the UK between 2001 – 2011, Blair should instead “ receive a badge of dishonour for undermining British workers, weakening public services and ignoring the interests of his own people”. Furthermore (wrote Glover), we now “face another influx from Romania and Bulgaria, when controls over immigration from those countries are lifted as from January 1st 2014”.

The Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband and several of his colleagues, such as Yvette Cooper (Home affairs), her husband Ed Balls (Finance) and Alan Johnson (MP for West Hull & Hessle) have all declared that the “open door” policy (for Poland and the nine other European Union Accession countries in 2004) of the Blair Government (in which they participated) was a “mistake” and that they “miscalculated” the numbers likely to arrive. Glover, however, suspects that it was all part of a “deliberate Labour Party plan” to make Britain “ a truly multi-cultural country” and to enable UK businesses to employ “hardworking East Europeans who were happy to receive the minimum wage, or even less”. This produced an economic boom, but also meant that “a swathe of the British working-class were abandoned and had to subsist on welfare payments”.

Yvette Cooper has recently indicated that – if Labour wins the next election in 2015 and she becomes Home Secretary – she would “deal with the problem of employers who exploit migrants and would enforce the minimum wage laws far more rigorously” (The Guardian). She has also insisted (with an eye on the Romanian/Bulgarian situation) that “it is possible within existing EU rules” to ban migrants from claiming allowances and benefits a few days or weeks after arriving in the UK and – as quoted in the London Evening Standard (ES) – that “the loophole allowing foreign workers in Britain to obtain child benefit for offspring in their home countries could be swiftly closed” (though lawyers have apparently informed Westminster politicians that this would be illegal under EU regulations).

The Coalition Government has responded with even more strident rhetoric: The Work & Pensions Minister, Ian Duncan Smith, told Parliament last week that he was reviewing entitlements in order “ to lock out people from coming here solely for the purpose of claiming benefits” (The Economist). According to the ES, Home Secretary Theresa May has “sparked a row” with Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne and Foreign Secretar, William Hague, by attempting “ to impose tougher visa restrictions on Brazilian migrants” – a proposal which “The Financial Times” considers has “created another public relations disaster for Britain in Brazil”. Carlos Mellinger of the “Casa do Brasil” in London pointed out in a letter to the ES on 6th March that the employment rate among (what he estimates to be) the 260,000 Brazilians already in Britain is around 95% and depicted May’s plans as a “ a folly that risks damaging the UK economy and pushing Brasilia into harsh reciprocal provisions for British visitors to Brazil”.

The immigration issue has provoked a heated debate in the UK media. Simon Jenkins in the ES has characterised immigration control as “like spooning the sea” but also noted that the “positive influence of newcomers should never be underestimated”. For Andrew Neather in the same newspaper, the crux of the matter is “whether we see foreign visitors and immigrants as a source of growth and an opportunity, or a cause for concern.” A Guardian editorial on 6th March dismissed as “simply false” a Daily Mail contention that “families fresh off the bus from Bucharest will move straight into social housing”. The “Spectator” columnist Rod Liddle observed acerbically in the magazine’s 9th March edition that the “integrationist” Dutch & Germans have adopted a “hardline, post-liberal approach” and have no intention of being “swamped” by Romanians. Indeed, that Germany would veto attempts by either Romania or Bulgaria to join the Schengen Area (consisting of 26 European countries between whom it is possible to travel without passport checks or immigration controls).

Office Of National Statistics (ONS) data released on 28th February show that “515,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year ending July 2012 (among them: 197,000 to study, 194,000  for “work-related reasons & 68,000 to “accompany or join friends or family”) – a decrease of 74,000 on the previous year. The ONS figures also reveal that 352,000 left the country over the same period – to take up a definite job offer abroad, look for work, return to their country of origin, start a new life or retire. Among the preferred destinations: France, the USA, Cyprus, Portugal, Switzerland & Australia. Despite its “grim economic outlook”, Spain is still ( so “The Daily Telegraph” asserts) “where British expatriates feel the happiest”). However, even EU nationals (emphasizes “Expatforum” must now prove they have enough money or income to support themselves and so “will not be a burden on the Spanish State”.

On BBC TV’s “Question Time” from Dover last Thursday evening, there was the remarkable spectacle of the left-wing RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers) leader Bob Crowe and the right-wing Daily Mail journalist Melanie Phillips both advocating – to thunderous applause from the audience – that the UK should leave the European Union. In stark contrast, when Conservative Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke spoke for staying in, he was greeted with stony silence: A portent of what could happen when the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU finally takes place.

Filed under: Immigration & Visas | Posted on March 14th, 2013 by Colin D Gordon

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