As a Scot who left his country 22 years ago, has lived since then in nine countries, and now divides his time between a flat in Sofia and a house in the Carpathian mountains, I have an obvious interest in this issue of immigration – a subject on which opinion polarises according to the security of the disputant’s economic position.
Too many liberals in older EU member states, for example, fail to understand the insecurity and anxieties of ordinary people (particularly in these times of crisis and cutbacks), and too many venal politicians and shoddy journalists understand these all too well and try to exploit them for their own benefit.
I am writing this letter partly to disown the insularity of the British government, partly to try to help people understand why they are behaving this way, and partly to try to refocus the discussion.
Although an English politician did, in the 1960s, make an infamous speech warning of “rivers flowing with blood” if the immigration (of West Indians then) continued, the UK had, until the early 1980s, a net negative flow of migration. More people were leaving than coming in.
This all changed 30 years ago – due to a new flow of Asian immigrants many of whom do not easily integrate. When seven central European countries joined the EU in 2004, the UK was one of only three countries (the others being Ireland and Sweden) to allow unrestricted entry to the labour market for the citizens of those seven countries. The government advisers had anticipated only a small flow – but grossly underestimated the scale. That’s why three years later, the government took a more restrictive approach to Bulgaria and Romania – for a period which runs out in January next year.
And the British government is not alone in beginning to rethink the basic EU principle of free flow of labour. France, Italy and Germany have been expressing concern about the new arrivals since the mid-2000s of another group of people who do not easily choose to integrate – a group which has been rechristened by the politically correct to Roma.
So let us be very clear. The Brits have been delighted to have the very clever, professional and energetic Bulgarians and Romanians in their midst since 2007. They don’t, however, want another group which makes no effort to integrate – and which, in addition, is coming to beg and steal. But it is impossible to screen such people out at entry point and, as I understand the legal situation, to deport them even when they are convicted of theft.
This, I hope, puts current British attitudes in perspective.
Ronald G. Young, Sofia