The British embassy in central Bucharest, a large neo-classical mansion painted two shades of cream and overshadowed by a grim concrete block of flats, was largely deserted yesterday afternoon.
A security guard on the gate said that on a normal day there might be 150 people queuing outside to submit visa applications. Yesterday the action was limited to British journalists hanging around while a BBC television crew fought a battle of wits with security guards determined to prevent them getting the embassy building in shot.
Passers-by looked on in bemusement and the embassy press office put on its stiffest of stiff upper lips, referring all inquiries to the Foreign Office.
Alexandru, a driver with a hire-car firm, said he would very much like to go and work in the UK but he believed it was "very hard'' to get a visa.
"Just to visit the UK you need a visa," he pointed out, "but for Italy, Spain, Germany and the rest no visa is required - you just have to show the immigration officers that you have €100 for the number of days you plan to stay."
A friend of Alexandru joined us on the street, an undertaker coming out of the embassy, after making arrangements for the burial of a British national.
He confirmed Alexandru's view. "Britain is very hard to go to, very hard," he said. "They have the same rules as the United States. There is no lawyer who can arrange it." But Alexandru said many Romanians wanted to work in the UK, despite the difficulty, because the pound "was the strongest currency in the world".
There was also widespread anger at the suspension of applications from Romania imposed by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, yesterday. A lawyer in Bucharest, Liana Traistaru-Vulpe, said the system by which documents were sent directly to Britain, bypassing the embassy, "has been used by France, Spain and Belgium for years".
She added: "As Britain is at least in name part of the EU it should follow EU norms.
"What the consul said is very infuriating for Romanian lawyers. It is obvious that there can be fraud if there is no direct contact but you should not start from the assumption of fraud, and fraud can always be proved.
She added that she felt the Romanian Bar Association should lodge a complaint "about this insult".
A spokesman for the Romanian Foreign Ministry said the decision by the British Government to suspend Romanian applications for work permits was "unfair and exaggerated''.
He said that the British ambassador to Bucharest would be invited to the Foreign Ministry to discuss the situation. "We want to do everything we can to get the suspension lifted as soon as possible,'' said the spokesman.Reuse content