Row looms over failure to seek EU migration estimate

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Ministers face a row with their own immigration advisers amid claims they failed to order an investigation in to how many Romanian and Bulgarian workers were likely to come to the UK next year.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper insisted the Government did not order an inquiry in to how many migrants would travel to the UK after being told there was so much uncertainty over the number, any attempts to make an estimate would not be “sensible”.

His claims come after Sir David Metcalf, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee, told MPs at the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee last week he had never been asked by ministers to estimate the number of Bulgarians and Romanians expected to come to the UK when labour market restrictions are lifted on January 1.

Many Tory MPs are worried that lifting EU restrictions will see tens of thousands of workers from both countries coming to work in the UK. They have repeatedly demanded the Government put an estimate on the number after the lifting of restrictions in 2005 led to many more Polish migrants arriving at British ports than initial estimates by civil servants.

Tory backbencher Philip Hollobone said voters would find it “disgusting” the Government had failed in its “basic duty” to find out how many migrants planned to come to the UK on January 1.

In a Westminster Hall debate, Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said ministers did not know the number because they never asked their experts and advisers to find out.

Mr Vaz said: “We had before us at the select committee only last week the chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee and we specifically asked Sir David Metcalf did the Government ask you and your committee to conduct research as to the number of people coming in to this country after December 31?

“And he specifically said ‘no’.

“I think that is a big mistake because now we have estimates that vary from 10,000 from the Bulgarian ambassador, to 20,000 from the Romanian ambassador, to 50,000 from Migration Watch. We have these problems because the Government was not prepared to ask the very body it established.”

Turning to Mr Harper, the MP added: “You have obviously not had the time to read the evidence of Sir David Metcalf.”

But Mr Harper insisted the Government had asked the committee about the possibility of making an estimate but were told it would not be a “sensible” exercise.

He said: “We asked the Migration Advisory Committee in 2011 the question about the labour market and in their response to that commission they said ‘it would not be sensible or helpful to policy makers for us... to attempt to put a precise numerical range around this likely impact’.

“That was the advice they gave us and that is the advice we followed.”

Bill Carmichael: Page 13.