Westminster report: Migration must be sustainable
WHEN I joined the House of Commons in 1987, few people would have imagined that less than 20 years later Romania and Bulgaria would be preparing to join the European Union. At that time, both countries were under the rule of hard-line communist dictators,
WHEN I joined the House of Commons in 1987, few people would have imagined that less than 20 years later Romania and Bulgaria would be preparing to join the European Union. At that time, both countries were under the rule of hard-line communist dictators, and the end of these regimes did not appear imminent. How things have changed.
The accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU in January, 2007 will be a great achievement for both these countries, but one that is already being overshadowed by rows over the effect it will have on inward migration. Given the way the Government so badly mishandled the
previous enlargement in 2004, and were so wrong in their estimation of new arrivals in Britain, it is hardly surprising that there are concerns.
Of course, migrant workers have made, and will continue to make, an extremely positive contribution to Britain both culturally and economically. Legal migration is of enormous benefit in plugging skills shortages, filling unpopular jobs and spurring economic growth. Local employers have been employing East Europeans under special schemes for many years and at the end of their work they go home. The issue is not those who come for specific jobs but those who may come 'on spec' only to end up without work and on the streets or claiming benefits.
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The Government expected about 13,000 new migrants when the previous EU expansion took place in 2004. Since then some 600,000 people have arrived in Britain (65,000 in this region alone). How could the Government have got its figures so wrong? The sheer weight of numbers (and the fact that they were so unexpected) has meant that some local authorities, required to provide school places and housing, have been put under great strain. The Government must learn the lesson, and have controls in place for the next enlargement.
In advance of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU, the Government should impose restrictions similar to the ones adopted by most EU countries when Poland and nine other countries became member states.
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These restrictions allow in workers with particular skills needed in our economy, without opening the borders completely.
This position is similar to that of John Denham, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and of the Confederation of British Industry, who have argued for "a pause for a period before opening up to workers from further new member states." The Accession Treaties allow for a transitional period up to seven years in which full access can be restricted - this should be invoked by Government to ensure that inward
migration can be absorbed and managed effectively.
There is also a vital challenge to be met in helping Britain's new communities integrate fully with the mainstream values of British society.
The current focus is on Muslim communities, but the need for integration applies across the board.
The Government must not allow an event which should be celebrated as a major consolidation of democracy in two former dictatorships to be seen as a threat because it is unprepared to control migration. Migration will continue to be of great benefit to Britain but only if it is sustainable and based on our labour market needs, ensuring that skills gaps can be filled and public services and housing infrastructure can cope.
Such a policy, already in place across Europe, will make life better for