Britain trembles before an invasion from Eastern Europe.
In January 2014, hordes of Romanians and Bulgarians will be swarming all over the UK, clogging up the NHS and defrauding the benefit system. At least, that is what the doomsayers foretell. Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but a number of countries, including Britain, imposed restrictions on the right of their nationals to work. These restrictions will expire at the end of 2013. Mainstream parties fear that the migration issue will give a boost to right-wing parties in the European parliament elections in spring 2014.
Since 2010, there has been a marked decline in non-EU net immigration. As a proportion of non-British immigration to the UK, it has dropped from 73% in June 2010 to 57% in June 2013. In the last year alone, it has fallen from 172,000 to 140,000. This year, net migration from the EU has gone up by 72,000 to 106,000. The recent increase in net EU migration has come from the older, more established (and traditionally more wealthy) EU member states, not the new member states from central and eastern Europe. It would seem that the crisis in the peripheral eurozone countries has made the UK a popular destination for migrants from countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 60 complaints expressing concerns about a high-profile van advertisement campaign. The adverts telling illegal immigrants to go home or not to come were “reminiscent of slogans used by racist groups to attack immigrants in the past”. Adverts displayed on billboards on vans in six London boroughs told overstaying migrants: “Go home, or you’ll be picked up and deported.”Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has previously described the scheme as “stupid and offensive” and Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council in London, said it was “an act of desperation”. There was also a campaign telling Romanians how horrible Britain is. This investigation is in addition to one by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into a wave of immigration spot checks across the country.
I get a rather queasy feeling when I hear Sri Lankans who have settled in England complaining about Kosavars and Somalis swamping the country and indulging in crime. Migration is a contentious topic all over Europe now. Whenever cold winds blow through the economies of European nations, “natives” look to the incomers in their midst as scapegoats. Politicians take advantage of the fears of ordinary people in order to make political capital and to win cheap votes. Discontent about immigration often gives rise to racism and fascism. It is very difficult to have a rational debate on the subject, though some have tried.
Migration out of Britain
Romania is an increasingly attractive proposition for British people. Though some expats reported corruption and bureaucracy, that was outweighed by low cost of living- £25 a year council tax, beer for £1 a pint, flat income tax of 16 per cent. They were warmly received by their hosts, albeit occasionally taken advantage of.
Chris Lawson is happy to live in Romania. He told me: “I may be something of a romantic, but it is broadly true that, in Transylvania, Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons, Armenians, Jews and Roma have been living peacefully with each other for centuries, a model for the rest of Europe.” Another Brit living in Romania, Paul Wood is in the recruitment business. He says: “When I moved here in 1998 the Romanian standard of living was that of Britain in 1959 and many of the ways of thinking were late 1950’s too. Things have changed a lot since then, but by no means out of recognition. Romanians have virtues that some in Great Britain have lost. Romanian women are womanly (and very often beautiful), Romanian men are virile even if they seem quite otherwise at first sight. Romanians are family minded and esteem education. They are old-fashioned, clean-cut, self-reliant, sceptical of authority and they believe in freedom.“
UK Government Response
David Cameron proposed stopping new EU arrivals from receiving benefits for their first three months in Britain There are proposals in the new immigration bill to require EU migrants to pay for the use of the NHS. Cameron’s plans failed to placate Tory backbench critics who demanded more draconian restrictions.
Labour leader Ed Miliband jumped on the migrant-bashing bandwagon. He said that he thought the Labour government’s decision to permit the unlimited immigration of eastern European migrants had been a mistake. He claimed they had underestimated the potential number of migrants and that the scale of migration had had a negative impact on wages.
European Commissioners condemn Cameron’s measures, given that the Government has been a keen supporter of EU enlargement and British citizens take full advantage of freedom of movement. Laszlo Andor, the European Employment Commissioner, warned that the move risked showing the UK as the “nasty country” in the EU. Viviane Reding, the Justice Commissioner, said she did not understand the “political logic” of the moves, given that the Government has been a keen supporter of EU enlargement and British citizens take full advantage of freedom of movement, setting up homes and businesses overseas.
However, the new governing coalition formed by Angela Merkel in Germany had committed itself to “reducing incentives for migration” by amending its domestic laws on welfare. Downing Street said the development proved that Mr Cameron’s initiative was gaining wide support across the EU. President François Hollande’s government in France also called for tighter restrictions on EU migrants and Britain says its stance is also being backed by the Netherlands and Austria.
UKIP (UK Independence Party) hopes to become the largest British party in the European Parliament after next May’s elections. Nigel Farage claimed: “The whole political scene is changing because of the strength of UKIP.”
For and Against Immigration
There is a debate going on in Britain about whether mass immigration is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, there are those who argue that mass immigration has undermined the British economy and society. They argue that low-skilled immigrants have taken jobs from unskilled natives, while high-skilled immigration reduces opportunities for ambitious and talented Britons. On the other hand, some claim that there is little evidence that immigration has made more than a marginal contribution to reducing educational or labour market opportunities for less advantaged Britons.
Benefits of Migration
A study by University College London’s migration research unit, found that people from the European Economic Area (EEA) – the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – were most likely to make a positive contribution to the UK’s finances. Migrants from the EEA paid about 34 per cent more in taxes than they received in benefits over the ten years from 2001 to 2011. The study found a positive and significant association between productivity growth and the increase in the employment of migrant workers between 1997 and 2007.
The European Commission published a report by consultancy firm ICF GHK as a response to concerns from some EU member states about the application of EU law on social security to migrants. The report concluded that, in most countries, immigrants do not claim more welfare benefits than nationals.
Even the Treasury’s official watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility extols the benefits of immigration. Britain, it said, has no choice but to welcome hundreds of thousands of new migrant workers every year in order to stabilise public finances and to help pay the growing bills for the NHS and pensions. Migrants to the UK tend (at the moment) to be young, they pay a third more in tax than they receive in benefits, and fill tough jobs.
David Goodheart is Editor-at-Large of Prospect magazine. He has published a book called The British Dream. He argues that low-skilled immigrants have taken jobs from unskilled natives, while high-skilled immigration reduces both the incentives and opportunities for ambitious and talented natives. He writes of a “Saudi Arabianisation” of the labour market where millions of long-standing residents sitting at home on benefit while poorer foreigners come in and take the sort of jobs they would have been doing.
Goodheart also claims that the failure of at least some immigrants to integrate has led to the decline of a shared sense of community.
Jonathan Portes is director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the Cabinet Office. Reviewing Goodheart’s book, he claimed there was a contradiction between Goodheart’s reasonable discussion of the evidence on economics and integration and his unsubstantiated and alarmist talk. Portes argued that there is little or no evidence that immigration has made more than a marginal contribution to reducing educational or labour market opportunities for less advantaged Britons. Unemployment of native-born youth rose less in areas that experienced a larger change in the share of immigrants.
Paul Collier an Oxford economist at Centre for the Study of African Economies, has published a book called Exodus. Collier says that when studying migration, he was struck by the gulf between the strength with which opinions were held and the depth of ignorance about the subject. On the left, “distaste and disdain for opponents of immigration have become differentiating tests of identity. Beneath the vitriol is the fear that any concession to popular prejudice risks unleashing anti-immigrant violence.”
“In high-income societies, the effect of immigration on the average incomes of the indigenous population is trivial. Economies are not damaged by immigration; nor do they need it. The distributional effects can be more substantial but they depend on the composition of immigration.”
A Mongrel Race
“Foreigners” have been settling in Britain for many centuries. In fact, the British themselves are a mongrel race. The Picts and Celts were colonised by the Romans who, in 250AD, brought a contingent of black legionnaires, drawn from the African part of the empire. When the Romans left in the fifth century, Germanic tribes, Jutes, Angles and Saxons, moved in, followed 400 years later by the Vikings. In 1066, the Normans brought the French language and many rules of governance that survive today. William the Conqueror brought in Jews to help develop commerce, finance and trade.
At the end of the Second World War, there were work shortages in Europe and labour shortages in Britain. The British government needed immigrants. On 22 June 1948, the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, delivering hundreds of men from the West Indies, encouraged by adverts for work. This was the start of mass immigration to the UK and the arrival of different cultures.
Racial tension seems to be the price Britain has to pay for once having an empire and for having labour shortages. There were race riots as far back as the 1950s. The 1981 riots, that started in Brixton and flared up all over the country, arose because of resentment that the police were targeting young black men in the belief that it would stop street crime. The subsequent Scarman Report found that “racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life”.
Enoch Powell, as Minister for Health, had been responsible for recruiting thousands of black nurses to the NHS. Nevertheless, in the sixties, he became the unlikely spokesman for the beleaguered white working class, even winning the endorsement of Eric Clapton. Powell had dockers marching through the streets chanting his name after he made a speech warning of “rivers of blood”. He was sacked by prime minister Edward Heath, who said: “I have told Mr Powell that I consider the speech he made in Birmingham yesterday to have been racialist in tone and liable to exacerbate racial tensions. This is unacceptable from one of the leaders of the Conservative Party.”
David Frost interviewed Enoch Powell in 1968, soon after the controversial speech. I watched it at the Pimlico family home of a university friend and flatmate. He was a middle-class Marxist who affected scruffy clothes and a disdain for personal hygiene. I recall that when I persistently complained about him leaving the bath in our home dirty he responded: “I thought you were supposed to be working class”. My friend’s mother was very posh and worked with a writer connected to the BBC. The father was a liberal vicar with an independent income. Their house was very different from my parents’ council house. Despite feeling my social inferiority, I shared their middle class outrage that Frost was too soft on Powell.
Powell deployed anecdote and hearsay in a way that knowingly played to the prejudices of those of those who were more racist than he was. This austere and donnish classicist had dockers marching through the streets in his support. Because he was a contrarian and mischief-maker, it is likely that he took delight in raising issues that both parties shrouded in complicit silence. His speech raised matters of real concern. In particular, he was right to suggest that areas like Wolverhampton were experiencing acute problems in adjusting to the concentration of recent immigrants.
According to Paul Collier, Powell’s forecast of immigrant numbers was remarkably accurate but his forecast of their social consequences was “grotesquely wrong”. “All high-income societies have developed robust conventions against intergroup violence.”
Nevertheless, one can, without wanting to join a fascist party, empathise with those white working class people who feel in their gut that decisions that they were powerless to influence were made by people who were cushioned from the consequences of those decisions. Collier writes: “In these circumstances, liberal intellectuals who dismiss concerns about future migration, as distinct from the complaints about its past effects, are being cavalier at other people’s expense. It is the indigenous poor, existing immigrants and people left behind in the countries of origin who are potentially at risk, not the middle classes.”
Powell’s memory is alive today. Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Vince Cable likened Conservative “panic” about Romanian and Bulgarian migration to Powell’s speech. “We periodically get these immigration panics in the UK. I remember going back to Enoch Powell and ‘rivers of blood’ and all that. If you go back a century it was panics over Jewish immigrants coming from Eastern Europe,” Mr Cable told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.
According to UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the relaxed EU work regulations due to take effect on January 1 2014 will change the very infrastructure of London and other British cities. London has already changed irreparably. Rich financiers have made it unaffordable for the working class. The real threat to British stability comes from governments giving incentives to wealthy elites to take up residence. Russians receive a quarter of the ‘investor visas’ that the UK gives to those who can pay a million pounds. The proprietor of the London Evening Standard is Alexander Yevgenievich Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and former officer of the foreign intelligence directorate of the KGB.
It seems unlikely, that there will be a huge influx of Romanians and Bulgarians. Many believe it improbable that those who do try Britain will stay permanently. Indications are that young people will try to make some money in the UK doing jobs for which they are over-qualified and then return to Romania using their savings to establish a family back home.
Paul Wood says: “If Britain and other Western European countries have decided that they need immigrants, and they have, they should be very grateful that the EU has a supply on hand of Romanian immigrants who share a European culture and will fit in easily. Probably no immigrants in the world assimilate as quickly as Romanians who seem not to stay together in clusters like other immigrant groups.”
In The Week, Nigel Horne interviewed some Romanians already in Britain. Andrea has a degree in accountancy from Bucharest and works as a cleaner in London. “It’s just… it is not a real life. It is only about making money so we can go home with the deposit to buy a place to live. I miss my family and friends – and the fresh air…We don’t want to come here NOT to work – we want to work and make money. If there was no job I would go home.” Romanian labour minister, Mariana Campenau, said it is the British, who exploit the welfare system, shunning jobs in favour of living on benefits. “If Romanians are happy to take up those vacancies, why should they be blamed?”
Between May 2004 and September 2009, 1.5 million workers migrated from the new EU member states to the UK. Many have returned home. Migration from Poland in particular has become temporary and circular in nature. In 2009, for the first time since the enlargement, more nationals of the eight Central and Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 left the UK than arrived.
Paul Wood thinks differently. “The Romanians who return to Romania after working abroad will create the Romania of the future. They are the candidates I most value as a recruiter. On the other hand, inevitably, the great majority will not return and this is a huge, irreparable loss to Romania.”
Even if large numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians do descend on the UK, ordinary people will probably get along fine as they have mostly done with previous waves of immigrants. Nevertheless, there will always be those who resent immigrants. There is legitimacy to the fears of working class people having their neighbourhoods changing around them. However, it is evil and dangerous for politicians to exploit this.