Fears unfounded: The public debate is becoming ever more xenophobic, but the reality is that foreign workers are good for Britain

For every survey predicting a flood of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants in January, another anticipates but a trickle

Share
Related Topics

As 1 January draws ever nearer – and with it the lifting of restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens’ free entry into Britain – the more frenzied and out of proportion the public debate about immigration is becoming.

As the Prime Minister headed to Brussels yesterday for an EU summit, he was hastened on his way by tabloid headlines declaring, “If more come in, then get us out” and polls – conducted for the same newspaper – suggesting not only that more than 70 per cent of voters consider it important for him to limit immigration from Europe, but also that, if he does so, it could prove crucial to the outcome of the promised in/out referendum on Britain’s membership.

Given the ferment on the Tory backbenches, and Ukip’s gains to David Cameron’s Little-England right, it is little wonder that he should feel pressured. In response, he has done much to try to gain the upper hand. Only weeks ago, he outlined plans to minimise the temptations of our welfare and healthcare provisions. But with hysteria about an “influx” showing few signs of abating, the Prime Minister yesterday went further still, rushing measures through Parliament to stop new arrivals claiming out-of-work benefits in their first three months, ahead of the new year deadline, specifically to “make the UK a less attractive place for EU migrants”.

The problem with all of this is not only the troublingly xenophobic tone increasingly – and ever more unthinkingly – dominating the public discourse. It is also that the suggestion Britain is in danger of being swamped by immigrants, particularly benefits-scrounging immigrants, is simply not true.

First, for every survey predicting a flood of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants in January, another anticipates but a trickle. More importantly, though, the vast majority of migrants come here to work, and do just that. Shorn of the rhetoric, there is nothing wrong with Mr Cameron’s latest restrictions. But they are not needed in order to stem a tide from the former Eastern Bloc, nor will there be much noticeable impact in the immediate term.

Neither, sad to say, will the issue be laid to rest with Bulgaria and Romania – as The Sun’s rabble-rousing invocation of the referendum makes clear. Indeed, Mr Cameron has already hinted that the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 election could include measures to curb the free movement of workers within the EU. And only this week the Home Secretary was forced to distance herself from an allegedly leaked government report considering a cap on European migrant numbers after the Deputy Prime Minister dismissed the plan as “undeliverable” and “illegal”.

It is not that there is no issue here. Concerns about cultural integration, access to low-skilled jobs and pressure on public services do merit discussion. But the Prime Minister’s capitulation to ill-informed group-think, giving credence to the notion that immigration is a cost to the country when quite the opposite is true, is no basis from which to begin. Not only is the UK’s appeal to foreign workers a sign of our success; we are also the beneficiaries of the work that they do, the value they generate and the taxes they pay. If there is a wave that risks flooding Britain, it is a wave of fear and foolishness.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'