On 1 January 2014 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens were granted full access to the UK employment market after transitional controls expired. Despite both countries joining the EU in 2007, many Member States including the UK, France, and Germany imposed temporary employment restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants. With these restrictions having now been lifted much of the UK is in a state of panic, fearing that the country is soon to be invaded by migrants.
Apparently, buses and flights heading for the UK are all full as Romanians and Bulgarians get ready to steal our wallets and claim our benefits. According to Philippa Roe, (Conservative leader of Westminster City Council) they may even defecate on our doorsteps. But before you get ready to guard your front door, I am pleased to say that such claims are nothing more than distasteful scaremongering tactics. In fact, it is highly unlikely that a Romanian or Bulgarian migrant (or anyone for that matter) will defecate on your doorstep as a result of these restrictions being lifted. Nor are the Romanian and Bulgarian citizens that head to the UK coming here to commit crime or take advantage of our welfare system. Instead, they are merely seeking to exercise their free movement rights available to all EU citizens. The very same rights exercised by millions of British citizens each year.
Sadly, it is the UK government which has been at the very forefront of this anti-immigration campaign. In an attempt to curry favour with voters amid the rising popularity of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the government has wasted no time in proposing a series of new restrictions against migrants in an effort to appear ‘tough’ on immigration. Such restrictions will apply to all EU migrants. However, the introduction of such measures just as work restrictions are being lifted against Romanians and Bulgarians makes it difficult to see these measures as being targeted at anyone else. Restrictions on EU migrant workers proposed by the government include:
- No EU migrant will be entitled to out of work benefits for the first three months of residence, or be able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than six months unless they have a genuine prospect of employment.
- Migrants will be charged for use of NHS accident and emergency services.
- EU nationals sleeping rough or begging will be deported and barred from re-entry for 12 months “unless they can prove they have a proper reason to be here, such as a job”.
Regardless of the legality of these proposed restrictions (the EU Commission has warned that it will check whether the new rules are in accordance with EU Law), what is perhaps most troubling is not the restrictions themselves but the xenophobic and racist environment in which they have been introduced. An environment in which politicians and the media feel comfortable hurling insults at a group of people before they even enter ‘our’ country. An environment in which EU citizens merely seeking to exercise their free movement rights are labelled ‘foreign criminals’ or ‘aggressive beggars’. It is easy to blame the current economic difficulties on an ‘influx’ of migrants. It is much more difficult to take action to actually solve these problems, which coincidentally were nothing to do with Romanians or Bulgarians invading the UK.
This, therefore, is a plea to our politicians to stop using these people as a scapegoat or as a convenient way to score political points. If EU citizens want to exercise their legal rights to live and work in this country and create a better life for themselves and their families in the process who are you to say they can’t? In fact, according to a recent poll more than two thirds of Britons would welcome them with open arms. Also, before seeking to ‘renegotiate’ EU free movement rules please spare a thought for the millions of British citizens who benefit from these rights as well.
BBC News, ‘Q&A: Bulgarian and Romanian immigration’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21523319
Daily Mail, ‘Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK’: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2531440/Sold-Flights-buses-Romanians-Bulgarians-head-UK.html
The Guardian, ‘EU migrants: David Cameron sets out more benefit restrictions’: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/27/david-cameron-benefit-restrictions-eu-migrants
— — ‘Britons ready to welcome migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, poll finds’: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/29/bulgaria-romania-migrants-uk-poll
ITV News, ‘Top Tory claims Roma “defecating on London doorsteps”’: http://www.itv.com/news/update/2013-12-31/top-tory-warns-immigrants-could-escalate-problems/
London Evening Standard, ‘EU benefits ban: legal advice taken’: http://www.standard.co.uk/panewsfeeds/eu-benefits-ban-legal-advice-taken-9011605.html