Government failure led to anti-immigrant prejudice - MPs

Published on Friday, 21 March 2014 11:01
Written by Daniel Mason

The government was wrong not to provide an estimate of the number of Romanians and Bulgarians it expected to come to Britain when immigration controls were lifted at the start of the year, a report by MPs on the home affairs select committee has concluded.

Failing to provide an estimate led to an "unnecessary anti-immigrant prejudice" that was a "blot on our tolerant society", according to Keith Vaz, a Labour MP and chair of the influential committee.

The MPs recommended that in the case of future EU enlargements, the home secretary's migration advisory committee should be tasked with providing a best guess of how many people from the new member states would move to the UK.

Vaz said that if the government did not commission the research, the home affairs select committee would do so instead.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007 but transitional controls on migration from those countries to the UK lapsed at the start of 2014. Ahead of the relaxation of the rules, concerns about the numbers who would make the move became a hot political topic, with the anti-EU party Ukip among those leading the debate.

At the time the government said attempting an estimate would be unhelpful, pointing to Labour's earlier inaccurate assessment of how many migrants would come from eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, when many more arrived than expected.

However this time around, when the restrictions were lifted the number of migrants from appeared to be lower than many had predicted. Stories in the media about fully-booked flights and coaches from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK had to be retracted as incorrect.

"The numbers coming from Bulgaria and Romania since the end of transitional controls appear rather more a trickle than flood," said Vaz. "The government's failure to commission an estimate of these numbers has led to unnecessary anti-immigrant prejudice and is a blot on our tolerant society.

"It is essential that for future enlargement of the EU the government commissions research on the impact of migration to the UK. If they do not do so, the committee will."

However, the government rejected the findings of the report. A home office spokeswoman said: "We totally reject the committee's suggestion that not attempting to forecast the number of Romanian and Bulgarians who might come to the UK after the expiry of transitional controls has led to 'anti-immigrant prejudice'.

"Any such forecasts would have lacked all credibility - indeed, the failure of previous attempts to predict likely numbers of EU migrants in the past only contributed to the public's concern about uncontrolled immigration.

"The migration advisory committee said it would not have been sensible or helpful to make guesses ahead of January 1."

But Labour's shadow immigration minister David Hanson said the failure to provide an estimate was "the latest in a long line of failures which shows David Cameron's rhetoric on immigration does not match the reality".

"Not for the first time this government's failure on immigration allowed scare stories to run and run that could have been avoided with a simple assessment of the facts."

He added: "This report shows that the government's incompetence in managing the immigration system is only matched by its ability to stoke anti-European feeling to the detriment of the British people."

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