Toby Helm, Telegraph (London), Aug. 9, 2006
Ministers are considering abandoning Tony Blair’s open door policy of unrestricted access for workers from new European Union members in a major rethink of immigration strategy.
As Labour MPs called for controls on immigrant numbers, the Home Office confirmed that discussions had started on whether to restrict the flow from countries due to join the EU. Officials said that limits could be placed on the number of immigrants that would be accepted from Romania and Bulgaria, which are expected to join the union as early as next Jan 1.
A Home Office spokesman said the decision would be based on three factors: labour market needs at the time; the experience of the previous enlargement in 2004 when 10 countries, including eight from eastern Europe, entered; and the approach taken by the other 24 EU members.
In October, all 25 EU member states will have to indicate what they will do: either lift restrictions immediately or have a transition period. Germany and France have maintained some restrictions, saying that they will not apply the full EU policy of freedom of movement of people and labour for around five years.
In 2004 Britain was one of only three countries, with Sweden and Ireland, to impose no limits on workers from the new member states.
The Prime Minister said that the numbers seeking work here would not be great and that those who did come would bring economic benefit. Government estimates suggested that 13,000 workers would arrive from the 10 accession states. The latest official figures show that 350,000 have arrived.
Local government leaders said on Monday that the influx was causing a crisis as councils came under pressure to pay for school places and other services for immigrant families. Lord Bruce-Lockhart, the chairman of the Local Government Association, warned John Reid, the Home Secretary, that the only option for many councils would be to cut services or add up to six per cent on council tax bills.
Frank Field, a former Labour minister, urged Mr Reid to close the borders to workers from new accession states unless all other member states allowed free access.
Mr Reid, who will address immigration and security issues in a speech today, signalled an about-turn on policy when he suggested at the weekend the establishment of an advisory council that would set a sensible limit on numbers entering the country. A month ago Mr Blair suggested that this was unnecessary.
Mr Field said: “The Home Secretary should be congratulated for responding to growing public concern over the level of immigration.
“In 2004 alone, this country accepted nearly a million immigrants, more than 400,000 of whom were from eastern Europe. At the same time, around 350,000 people left these shores for a life elsewhere. At this rate, one tenth of the population will have been transformed within a five-year parliament.”