So, where are Mr Wardle's immigrants?

A ministerial resignation conjures once more the spectre of needy migrants sweeping through the European Union and onwards to Britain. Andy Marshall examines the evidence, untangles the law and draws a rather different conclusion

The past decade has seen huge population movements in Europe as refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have swept across borders. So how justifiable is the underlying fear voiced by the resigned Home Office Minister Charles Wardle that a vast influx of economic migrants is waiting to cross the Channel, egged on by Jacques Santer?

The first part of Mr Wardle's argument rests on the view that Europe has become an economic magnet for migrants. This is true: after a long period when Europe was a source of emigration, it became the target of immigration again in the latter 1980s. This was largely because of its increased prosperity, but also a result of political changes. The main sources of this movement over the past 10 years have been the countries of central and eastern Europe, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall; the Maghreb and the Middle East; and parts of Africa.

In the 1990s, the immigration pressures on Europe have been focused overwhelmingly on one country - Germany. It is the point of arrival for many people from central and eastern Europe as well as for those who fled the war in former Yugoslavia. In 1992 alone, 123,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany from former Yugoslavia, 104,000 from Romania and 231,000 ethnic Germans arrived from eastern Europe.

The rate of migration into Britain remained fairly steady during the 1980s, at around 60,000 to 70,000 a year - compared with the 1970s and early 1980s, when around the same number were leaving Britain every year. It is perfectly possible to argue that the only thing stopping a much larger wave of immigration has been the valiant passport officer.

The second element of Mr Wardle's argument is that Brussels wants Britain to drop passport controls. This is also correct (see box, below right). But his third contention - that once controls are gone, Euro-welfare scroungers will be taking all the best seats on the Eurostar - is a bit more dodgy. There is little evidence of a vast mass of people desperate to claim lavish British welfare benefits if only they could slip into the country. Britain cannot stop EU citizens from coming in and claiming welfare benefits if they meet the conditions - but they do not seem to want to come in large numbers. About half of Britain's 2 million population of foreign status are from Europe, but two-thirds of those of those are from Ireland, with which Britain has ties centuries old. And the rights of open access to benefits do not necessarily extend to those from third (non-EU) countries who are resident in Europe.

Britain's welfare benefits are not especially lavish by European standards, certainly compared to those of Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. These countries are also richer than Britain. None, bar Germany, has experienced a flood of newcomers, though all have experienced a rise in immigration - legal and illegal - and have tightened their controls as a result, even without having passport controls on their national borders.

It is possible, of course, that migrant communities could decide, once they had arrived in Europe, to head for Britain in search of work, perhaps attracted by Britain's lax regulations on employment. In general, however, migrants tend to remain in areas where they have family and where their communities are already established. The main source of legal immigration is the arrival of family members. The possibility of - for instance - a rapid movement of immigrants from the Maghreb through France to Britain seems very unlikely.

Finally, Mr Wardle argues that the EU is encouraging an immigration free- for-all. This is very misleading. The European Union has spent the past five years accumulating measures that make it more and more difficult for immigrants and asylum seekers to get into Europe. Only last week a group of EU countries got together to reintroduce visas for people from former Yugoslavia and impose stricter identity controls.

Once central Europe joins the EU, its citizens would be free to enter other states, of course. If London believes that these people would come straight to Britain, it is free to oppose their countries' membership. But the whole point of membership is to stabilise their economies and bring them up to Western norms, making emigration a less attractive option. Ireland, for instance, has already seen emigration stabilise and fall while in the EU. It is called economic integration, and even Tory Eurosceptics say that free trade is what the whole exercise is supposed to be about.

The approach taken by Europe on the movement of people has been consistent from the start: remove internal borders while toughening up controls on the exterior. Immigration policy is made between EU governments, and member governments retain national vetoes on virtually every related aspect. Germany is pressing for European moves to complement its own in reducing the influx of asylum seekers; France's interior minister, Charles Pasqua, has made his name with tough moves to clamp down on immigration, prompted by fears of Algerian civil war. While men like him are running Europe's interior ministries, the chances of national capitals losing their grip on policy, or of sudden outbursts of liberalism, seem remote. Mr Wardle is tilting at windmills.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker