Article by Mauro Longo
They told us that they would have arrived by the tens of thousands just on the first day, on New Year’s Day of 2014. They told us that the invasion would have been of such dimensions that the country, without a proper strategy to counter it, would have soon been on its knees. Resources would have been exploited to the very last penny. The benefit system would have collapsed, submerged by benefit applications and NHS expenses, paid for by the British taxpayer. But then.
On the 1st of January, restrictions to the employment of Bulgarian and Romanian nationals within the European Union were lifted. In the UK, the government feared a massive influx of A2 nationals looking for jobs, at a moment where the government is struggling to keep up to speed with its own pledge of reducing net migration to tens of thousands, an anti-European sentiment is gaining momentum and UKIP is putting pressure on the Conservatives from the right. Proposals to tackle this ‘invasion’ ranged from an advertising campaign to be run in Romania and Bulgaria about the adverse weather conditions in the UK, to a ban on access for European nationals to public housing, work benefits and free health services, to a cap on the numbers of future EU migrants entering the UK.
In the meantime though, no one actually worried about proposing measures to better integrate new migrants into local communities. Rather than enforcing measures to alleviate the pressure on housing, the NHS and other public services, the government came up with a time-limit before new migrants can apply for benefits. Notwithstanding numerous studies proving that EU migrants to the UK have been, so far, net contributors to the public coffers.
In addition to that, semi-official government estimates forecast the arrival of only 13.000 Romanian and Bulgarian nationals in 2014 (with many Labour MPs claiming that official figures were not released because ‘too positive’). And figures of Romanians and Bulgarians already living and working in the UK (about 150.000) suggest that those who wanted to look for a job in the country have already done so. Regardless, politicians did everything they could to raise the temperature on such a sensitive issue, running the risk of creating a problem where a problem was nowhere to be seen. The Romanian Ambassador to the UK laughed the British claims off, underlining that Romania is a Latin country and its citizens would rather move to Italy or Spain, where it is easier for them to learn the language and where large Romanian communities already exist. But a diplomatic incident has been waiting to happen for a while, and now Cameron seems to have managed succeeded in causing it: he singled out the Polish as an example of migrants abusing the benefit system, provoking a row with the Polish government.
Official figures are not available yet, but it looks as if the feared invasion of Romanians and Bulgarians did not take place after all. On the first flight, landing at Luton airport on the 1st of January, only one passenger declared the intention of looking for a job in the UK: the others were either tourists or residents coming back to their jobs after the winter holidays. Nonetheless, the Conservatives keep taking steps that seem to lead to an exit from the EU. Issues with intra-EU immigration, EU regulations, the European Court of Human Rights emerge almost daily. No one seems to remark however that these catastrophic estimates on the negative impact the EU has on the UK are not confirmed by official figures; that international businesses have warned the government they will move out of the UK the day after the UK ends their membership to the EU; and that, as is often the case everywhere in Europe, the national government is trying to blame the EU for its own failures. But the 2015 general elections are coming close, polls show a worrying growth of UKIP popularity and, we all know, immigration is a sensitive topic for the public opinion. Whether all this political nonsense will eventually benefit the UK has yet to be seen.