February 1, 2013 10:19 pm
By Helen Warrell and Elizabeth Rigby
Romania’s ambassador to Britain has mocked reports of a negative UK advertisement campaign to discourage prospective migrants from eastern Europe, suggesting it is not England’s weather but its sluggish economy which will deter new settlers.
Ministers are said to be considering adverts warning of Britain’s rainy climate in an effort to stem immigration from Romania and Bulgaria, both of which gain full working rights as EU members next year. But Ion Jinga, Romanian ambassador in London, played down fears of a “tsunami” of incomers, claiming that his homeland was at “the beginning of an economic boom”.
“If the British economy had last year probably zero economic growth, we have experienced 2.5 per cent growth in 2011 and last year 1.7 per cent growth,” the ambassador said, predicting similar expansion again this year. “So our economy is recovering faster than other European economies.”
Dr Jinga’s comments come as the UK government is battling increasing pressure from Conservative backbenchers to find ways to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from moving to Britain – with some issuing fiery warnings about the potential social impact of another wave of migration from eastern Europe.
“It doesn’t mean stopping everyone with a funny name or who doesn’t come from England, but we should make value judgments,” Stewart Jackson, a Tory MP and former ministerial aide, told the FT. “We want Polish graduates who can run a factory’s production line. We don’t want Bulgarian gangs who are into people trafficking and narcotics and sex crimes.”
The MP has appealed directly to Theresa May, home secretary, to introduce new rules preventing EU citizens from accessing social assistance during the first three months of residence and making it harder for new entrants to access benefits.
Mrs May’s ability to act is limited by EU laws on freedom of movement. But the last government’s mistakes have left Britons wary, and ministers must be seen to be tough; Labour’s failure to impose transitional controls after the accession of eight new member states in 2004 led to an influx of nearly 1m Poles and other eastern Europeans over seven years. New data published this week showed that Polish is now the second most common language in Britain.
Concerned by the increasingly febrile climate, Romanian and Bulgarian members of the European Parliament wrote on Friday to José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, to complain that their citizens’ rights as EU members were under threat.
“We believe that a wave of hostile statements since the beginning of the year aims to stigmatise these citizens as second-class Europeans who pose a threat to the social systems just because they want to exercise their basic rights to free movement and work,” the MEPs wrote.
Their frustration is understandable, especially because conditions are completely different to those preceding the Polish migration. In 2004, Britain was one of only three countries which chose not to introduce transitional controls on new EU member states. This time around, the UK is one of the last to lift its labour restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians.
Neither are the Tories’ warnings about “benefit tourists” borne out by evidence. The Department for Work and Pensions’ statistics show that just 7 per cent of migrants are on benefits, compared with 17 per cent of UK nationals.
Dr Jinga argues that, in fact, the departure of hard-working Romanian professionals in the early years of its EU membership has created problems back home. “Romanians didn’t come here to ask for social support but to work, and to work in areas where you have shortages where British are not interested to work,” he said. “We experience shortages in our medical system now because our doctors left for Britain, for France. We’re not happy with the situation.”
UK efforts to deter immigrants have been widely reported in Romania, prompting the country’s Gandul newspaper to launch its own spoof campaign luring Britons to Bucharest with promises of cheap beer and better food. “We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania,” the paper said. “Why don’t you come over?”
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