Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Britain powerless to stop tens of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians moving to UK next year

Britain is powerless to stop tens of thousands of Eastern European immigrants from coming to live in Britain from next year, Theresa May has admitted.

Five year old quotas limiting the number of people from Bulgaria and Romania who can move to live in Britain are due to expire in just over 12 months' time.

This will give 29 million Bulgarians and Romanians the right to live and work unrestricted in Britain in 2014 under European "freedom of movement" rules.

In an interview on BBC1, the Home Secretary said Britain would not be able to extend the so-called "transitional arrangements" to limit the expected influx.

Mrs May hinted that Britain might try to deny them benefits and access to the National Health Service to put them off from coming.

She told the Andrew Marr programme: "There are no further transitional controls that we can put on - the transitional controls end in December 2013.

"But that's where the importance of looking at some of the issues about what it is that is attracting people to come here, in terms of things like our benefits system and access to the health service, is so important."

The sudden influx could mean that the Coalition struggles to hit its target of cutting net migration - the difference between the numbers arriving and leaving - to tens of thousands by the next general election, expected in 2015.

Mrs May added that as part of a general review of free movement across the UK she will be looking at the attractions of why Romanians and Bulgarians wanted to settle in the UK.

This could lead to Bulgarians and Romanians being denied benefits or use of the health service if they came to live in the UK. However any attempt to deny benefits to European Union citizens in Britain will almost certainly be open to legal challenge in the courts.

She said: "I will be looking at what we call the pull factors, what is it that attracts people sometimes to come over here to the United Kingdom, so looking at issues about benefits, and access to the health service, and things like that.

"And then we're doing a wider piece of work across matters relating to Europe more generally but including free movement about that balance of powers between us and the EU."

The citizens of Romania and Bulgaria currently have restricted rights to come to Britain since they joined the European Union in 2007, but those limits end on 31 December 2013, opening the way for them to move freely.

Forecasters have said the removal of the restrictions could lead to a significant number of new arrivals, in the same way as when Poland and other Eastern European countries gained the same rights in 2004, with the scale likely to be increased by the economic crisis gripping the rest of Europe.

The Home Office has made no official predictions of how many more Bulgarians and Romanians will seek to enter Britain when the current limitations end, and argues that most who want to come have probably arrived already, finding work on the black market if they cannot work legally.

However, critics believe that the Government's reluctance to issue predictions is because it grossly underestimated the numbers that came in the previous wave of migration in 2004, when citizens from eight new eastern European EU members, including Poland, were given full access to the UK job market.



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