Ex-minister slams ‘far right hysteria’ over Bulgarian migrants

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Bulgaria’s former foreign affairs minister has criticised the “mass hysteria” surrounding the immigration debate driven by the “far-right”.

Nikolay Mladenov, who was Bulgaria’s foreign affairs minister until last spring, said the suggestion of a sudden influx of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants to Britain in 2014 were “politically-motivated” during an interview yesterday.

Mr Mladenov, now the United Nations Special Representative to Iraq, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the media had done well to try to set right such claims, saying they “show that this whole mass hysteria, which has been fanned out by some media outlets in the UK, has been purely politically-motivated and that there is no reason to believe that the UK will be swarmed by waves of immigrants from Bulgaria”.

He added: “I think it’s been entirely driven by the far-right political agenda.”

Mr Mladenov said the free movement of citizens had reciprocal benefits for both host country and guest resident. “A number of people, yes, have moved and they contribute to the development of your economy, just as much as a number of Britons have found Bulgaria as a base to settle down and they contribute to our economy.”

He added: “Most countries have benefited from open borders and from trade and from development in the European Union, so I don’t think we should be searing of that – we should actually be encouraging it and make sure that those who are qualified find jobs and contribute.”

The former minister’s comments come after polling commissioned by one of Yorkshire’s richest men showed businesses to be very concerned about the influx.

In November the polling, carried out by YouGov, found that 74 per cent of people in Yorkshire were opposed to the lifting of border restrictions.

Only 15 per cent of 1,013 people polled in the region supported the January change to border controls while the remaining 11 per cent said they did not know.

The findings were released by former Barnsley tyre fitter and Eurosceptic business tycoon Paul Sykes, who developed the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield on his way to amassing a £650m fortune.

He used the results as a springboard to announce his plans to fund a war chest for Ukip to fight next May’s European elections.

Following the poll Mr Sykes called for an in/out referendum on the day of the general election in 2015.

Despite fears that hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans would enter the UK when immigration restrictions were lifted on January 1 dominating the headlines recently, no such surge has yet occurred.

The quarantine period that prevented Bulgarians and Romanians from targeting UK jobs, as well as people from eight other EU countries, ended on New Year’s Day, seven years after the two countries achieved full EU membership.

But Laszlo Andor, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said there were already 3m people from Bulgaria and Romania living in other European Union member states.

“It is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers,” he said.

Immigration levels on a par with the number of arrivals experienced by the UK in 2004, when Poland joined the EU, also seem unlikely.

The UK has also put in place a new three-month minimum waiting time before these new arrivals are able to claim out-of-work benefits.

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