A hectic day in the life of Our Man in Bucharest seems just a vista of visas

The in-tray of Britain's ambassador to Romania is dominated by a single issue, discovers Adrian Chiles
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When Quinton Quayle, Britain's man in Bucharest, shuts his eyes at night he must see a visa projected on the inside of his eyelids. As must Adrian Nastase, the Romanian Prime Minister, most of his government and, for that matter, most Romanians.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the issue. Romanians are not allowed to visit the UK without a visa. This they thoroughly resent. A visa, at nearly £40, represents about half the average monthly wage. And applying is inconvenient, as the scowls of the applicants testified when they saw us filming them queueing on the icy pavement in January.

But, most importantly, it is about national pride. Romanians cannot feel they belong to a family of civilised nations until they can move freely among them. From reports on claims of clearly fraudulent applications being waved through by the Home Office you would think nobody had an application refused. But try telling that to the 4,500 Romanians sent packing by the visa section here last year; that is one in seven of all applications.

Evidence of Romania's desperation to accede to the European Union on time is everywhere. Nowhere do you see a Romanian flag without an EU flag next to it. And Tony Blair is accorded hero status for the backing he is giving the project. A year ago he said full EU membership for Romania was "the right thing not just for Romania but for Europe".

As far as I know there is not yet a statue of him, or a road named after him, but neither can be far away. His closeness to Mr Nastase is obvious. Pictures of the two of them together adorn the latter's offices, as lovingly as any on the family mantelpiece. And the ambassador bathes in the reflected glory of the Prime Minister's friendship. Mr Nastase's door is rarely closed to Mr Quayle and was certainly wide open on the day the BBC were in town.

And despite the sweetness of the mood music between the two at the meeting we filmed, it was left to Mr Quayle to raise the subject of visas. He said: "We'll be able to lift visas for Romania as soon as possible, as Tony Blair said to you in March.

"But the problem is we have to get the figures down for the number of Romanians that work illegally in Britain, don't obey the immigration rules or seek asylum, political asylum, which is really economic asylum. Now those figures have come down a bit but they haven't come down far enough and so ... I hope we can just step up our co-operation here among the relevant authorities."

Mr Nastase nodded and smiled and pointed out, in the nicest possible way, that whether you had visas or not was unlikely to have any impact on the number of asylum-seekers. "We assure our friends in Britain that we don't want to create problems for them but we want to give more opportunities for Romanians," he said.

But never does he betray much doubt that there is only going to be one outcome to the problem. "I'm sure we'll succeed to overcome this issue soon ... I'm very optimistic." As well he might be. Because the moment our Prime Minister threw his weight behind Romanian accession in 2007 he in effect committed us to lifting visa restrictions before then. Squaring this circle looked an awkward business for Mr Quayle on the day I spent with him. And as subsequent events have shown, it is getting more awkward all the time for everyone concerned.

So What Do You Do All Day? 11.20pm tonight, BBC2

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