Immigration warnings are just scaremongering, MP insists

MP Kevin Barron
MP Kevin Barron
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A YORKSHIRE MP has warned against “scaremongering” over the possible arrival of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria when border controls are formally relaxed next month.

Kevin Barron, the MP for Rother Valley, told the Commons that millions of people have already left the two eastern European counties to find work since they joined the European Union in 2007, and that much of the hard-line “rhetoric” around the likely impact of relaxing border controls in January has been “disgraceful”.

His intervention follows widespread concern among Conservative MPs about the removal of all restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants next month in nine European counties including the UK. The rest of the EU relaxed restrictions seven years ago.

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw said last month he believes Labour made a “spectacular mistake” in failing to follow the lead of other countries in western Europe by placing temporary restrictions on immigration when the last wave of eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004.

What followed was one of the largest periods of mass migration in British history from countries such as Poland and Latvia.

However, the influx from Bulgaria and Romania is likely to be significantly smaller, as every other EU country will have its borders open at the same time.

Mr Barron, a Labour backbencher who chairs the Commons standards committee, said Bulgarians and Romanians have been emigrating for many years, and that the UK has nothing to fear next month.

“Three million Bulgarians have left their country to work in other countries over the last few years, because they have had the right to access 15 European countries,” he said. “Is not a lot of the rhetoric that we have heard recently just scaremongering?”

Mr Barron made reference to last February’s by-election in Eastleigh, where UKIP finished second with a campaign focused on the risks of mass immigration from the two counties. He described the warnings as “disgraceful”, and attacked the “rhetoric running around the media”.

“In that by-election, it was said that 3.1 million Bulgarians would be coming here in January next year — more than half the population of Bulgaria,” he said.

The coalition has been accused by Labour of “flailing around” over the issue this week, having published a series of emergency measures designed to restrict the right of newly-arrived people to claim benefits.

Immigration Minister Mark Harper told Mr Barron he “could not control” media rhetoric, but insisted the coalition still supports people arriving from Europe if they are here to work.

“The Government have been clear that if people want to come here to work and contribute, as Romanians and Bulgarians have done since 2007, that is absolutely fine,” Mr Harper said.

“The changes we made last week are about ensuring people do not come here to claim benefits.

“It is also worth noting 79 per cent of the new jobs created since the Government came to power have gone to British citizens.”

However, Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers said the issue is still causing widespread concern, and called for “united action” with other EU states to extend the current controls beyond 2014.

“My constituents are concerned about immigration from Romania and Bulgaria and would like to see the transitional period extended,” the Tory backbencher said.

Mr Harper made clear it is “not possible” to extend the transitional controls “due to treaties signed by Labour when in Government”.

But he added: “The Home Secretary has been working with our European colleagues to tighten the rules, so that we see a reduction in the abuse of free movement.”