Minister dismisses fears of new year tide of Romanians and Bulgarians migrants

The Government has refused repeated demands to publish or commission estimates of the numbers expected to enter Britain

Claims that Britain is about to be hit by a tide of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants when border controls are lifted next year were dismissed by the Government.

Mark Harper, the Immigration minister, also rejected calls from Tory right-wingers for frontiers to be shut to workers from the two countries for another five years, warning that such a move would be thrown out by the courts.

Mr Harper’s comments were the first attempt by the Government to forecast the potential impact of the lifting on 1 January of “transitional controls” limiting the right of Romanians and Bulgarians to work in this country.

Ministers fear that the issue, which has been heavily exploited by the UK Independence Party, has the potential to become politically toxic for the Conservatives in the run-up to the European Parliament elections next May.

They are haunted by Labour’s experience in 2004 when borders were opened without restriction to 10 new European Union member states including Poland and Lithuania. Forecasts at the time suggested the influx of workers could amount to just 13,000 a year, a fraction of the eventual figure.

Speaking to journalists, Mr Harper argued there was “a big difference” between the events of nine years ago and the end of controls in six weeks’ time on 28.6 million Romanian and Bulgarian nationals.

He said: “In 2004 we were the only major country to not have transitional controls. All the other big countries did.

“Anybody who wanted to come and work somewhere legally came to the UK, which is why we had such a significant number of people.” The minister added that the new migrants were more likely to head to “economically successful” Germany or to Italy and Spain, which have large established populations from the two countries.

He refused to make a firm forecast of the likely number of new arrivals, explaining that making such predictions was a “fool’s errand”. The minister also dismissed pressure from Tory MPs to reimpose the Romanian and Bulgarian controls until the end of 2018.

Mr Harper said the move “simply isn’t legally possible” without amending the accession treaties that sealed Romania and Bulgaria’s membership of the EU.

“We wouldn’t even need to go to the European courts – the domestic courts would rule it wasn’t compliant with our treaty obligations, because it isn’t. We’ve extended the controls to their legal maximum.”

Mr Harper insisted the Home Office was not complacent about the issue and was working with other Whitehall department to limit migrants’ access to social housing and benefits and to tackle illegal working.

Conservative calls for an extension to the controls on Romanians and Bulgarians have been led by Nigel Mills, the MP for Amber Valley. He has argued the economy and public services would struggle to cope with large numbers of extra workers from eastern Europe.

The Government has refused repeated demands to publish or commission estimates of the numbers expected to enter Britain.

But Migrationwatch, a pressure group arguing for tighter immigration controls, has forecast that 250,000 Romanians and Bulgarians would head to Britain over five years, lured by the prospect of higher wages.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor