Numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians working in Britain have fallen by 4,000 in the first three months since visa restrictions were scrapped, official figures revealed today.
The statistics contradict claims by the UK Independence Party (Ukip) that Britain would be hit by an influx of workers from the two east European states once the transitional controls were lifted on January 1.
Ukip warned that the “floodgates will open”, while the pressure group Migration Watch predicted 50,000 arrivals a year from Romania and Bulgaria.
Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the new figures “gave the lie to Ukip’s scaremongering on immigration”. He said: “The very modest numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians coming to work in Britain this year is in stark contrast to the inflammatory rhetoric of earlier this year.”
Ahead of the removal of visa controls, the Government also rushed in changes to welfare rules designed to deter “benefit tourism” and David Cameron called for new rules on “freedom of movement” for new EU member states.
The Office for National Statistics reported that there were 140,000 Romanians and Bulgarians employed in the UK in the first quarter of 2014. That was a fall of 4,000 on the final three months of last year, but an increase of 28,000 over the last 12 months.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, demanded an apology from Ukip and others who “promised the end of the world”.
Ukip gaffes and controversies
Ukip gaffes and controversies
1/18 European elections poster
Party's latest EU election posters branded 'racist' and compared to BNP campaigns
2/18 Farage 'car-crash' interview
Ukip spin doctor forced to intervene as Farage falters in disastrous radio interview
3/18 Neil Hamilton
Picture Exclusive: The year is 1998. The venue is a Springbok Club meeting. The flag is a symbol for white supremacists in South Africa. And the speaker is Ukip’s deputy chairman, Neil Hamilton
4/18 Kerry Smith
Kerry Smith resigned as would-be MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock after it emerged he had mocked gay party members as “disgusting poofters”, joked about shooting people from Chigwell in a “peasant hunt” and referred to someone with a Chinese name as a “Chinky bird”
5/18 Natasha Bolter
Former Ukip member Natasha Bolter was suspected of not having the teaching qualifications she professed to, only days after it was revealed that claims of her having attended Oxford University were also false
6/18 Ukip Calypso song
Mike Reid released a single in praise of UKIP trying to control the UK's borders, only to withdraw the single after being accused of racism for singing in a Jamaican accent
7/18 Janice Atkinson
Janice Atkinson, Ukip's South East chair, pictured by protesters while campaigning in Ashford, Kent with local party chair Norman Taylor
8/18 Ukip cancels Freephone
Ukip cancels Freephone number after protesters repeatedly called to push up costs
9/18 Farage 'car-crash' interview
Mr Farage appeared to be caught out on a number of issues, from Romanian neighbours to people speaking foreign languages on the train
10/18 Ukip employs illegal immigrants
Ukip criticised after European election candidate found employing illegal immigrants
11/18 Magnus Nielsen
Ukip candidate: 'Take away the right to vote to improve election turnout'
12/18 Poster model
A “British builder” portrayed in a Ukip poster accusing EU workers of taking UK jobs turns out to be an Irish actor - aka a migrant worker
13/18 'Arrest protesters'
Ukip called for police to arrest protesters ‘who call us fascists’ ahead of showdown with anti-fascist groups in Brighton
14/18 London Live make-up
Ukip's Nigel Farage reportedly refused to go on London Live 'without professional make up-artist'
15/18 Andre Lampitt
Ukip forced to suspend the "poster boy" of its European election broadcast, after it was revealed he had posted a series of vile racist comments on Twitter
Nigel Farage says he is taking taking legal advice over “outrageous” allegations that he is responsible for more than £50,000 of “missing” EU funding that was paid directly into his personal bank account
17/18 Have I Got News For You
Nigel Farage appears in Have I Got News For You, spends the entire episode being ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
18/18 Anti-gay comments
Local branch chairman for Ukip defends a party's councillor candidate Douglas Denny who called gay people “abnormal” and said he wished “they stop trying to ram it down my throat”, all while discussing whether the word “sodomite” should be used
Keith Vaz went to Luton airport on 1 January to assess numbers of new arrivals from the two countries, only to encounter one passenger.
He said: “The committee viewed for itself how the supposed flood of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria was little more than a trickle.
"It would appear now that many may have actually left the UK.
"Those, including UKIP, who promised the end of the world on January 1, now owe the public and those from Romania and Bulgaria a full apology.”
Ukip pointed to separate ONS statistics, showing numbers of foreign workers in Britain has risen by 292,000 over the last year.
Its leader, Nigel Farage, said they demonstrated that Coalition immigration policy was an “abject failure”. He said: “Far from controlling immigration, this government has shown it has absolutely no control over Britain's borders and no intention of putting the British people first.”
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “These quarterly statistics always fluctuate. The latest annual figures show an increase of 28,000, in a period when restrictions were in place for nine months.
“We believe they are consistent with our estimate of a 50,000 population increase from Romania and Bulgaria for each of the next five years.”
* A minister has admitted the Government would not hit its target of reducing net migration to tens of thousands.
Anna Soubry, the defence minister, said: “At the moment we don’t seem to be on course.”
The latest figures showed net migration running at more than 210,000. New figures will be published next week.