INTO THE UNKNOWN; Today 10 More Countries Join the EU. It Should Be a Cause for Celebration - but the Shambles of Britain's Immigration Policy Has Tainted This Historic Moment
Byline: SIR ANDREW GREEN
TODAY is the day the barriers come down - all of them. From this point on, 75 million East Europeans will be able to travel freely throughout the European Union.
The good news is that this is a strategic success of historic proportions.
For over a decade we have been free of the Soviet threat and the 20 East European divisions which, in a purely conventional war, would have made mincemeat of Nato forces in a matter of days.
Our only answer was the nuclear deterrent with all the risks which that entailed.
But the collapse of the Soviet Union left the satellite states adrift, their economies devastated and their politics in a vacuum.
These countries are now to be firmly anchored in the EU.
What is more, this has been secured with the acquiescence of Russia, always a massive player in the affairs of Europe. As a result, Europe is more stable and Britain is more secure.
Yet, out of the jaws of this victory our Government has snatched only dissension and dismay.
Why? Because they have made an appalling mess of the immigration aspect, the issue that touches the public most directly.
With foreign immigration already at the highest level in our history and with congestion, especially in the South-East, impinging heavily on their daily lives, the British people are saying that enough is enough.
At first, ministers simply didn't see the problem. They published absurdly low estimatesof the likely number of immigrants from Eastern Europe. They insisted that 13,000 a year was the maximum. In fact, those numbers were already arriving and a similar number were being turned away at our borders every year.
Surely, they knew this. Indeed, Migrationwatch UK, the think-tank of which I am chairman, challenged their estimate last August. But they chose to stick with their original figure until Home Secretary David Bluncould hastily backed away from it during a recent Commons debate.
As realisation dawned that there could be a serious problem, our Government remained paralysed while Sweden, Denmark and Holland placed restrictions on their labour markets. Only in Britain and Ireland will they also be able to work without restriction.
After a vigorous Press campaign ministers finally recognised that they had to act - if only to prevent benefit tourism. They have now tightened the regulations but we cannot be sure that they have done enough to deter those more interested in benefits than in work.
So will East Europeans come flooding in? With a population of 38 million, Poland - which I visited last week - accounts for half the newcomers to the EU.
Their standard of living is less than half the European average and there is unemployment of about 20 per cent. Obviously, this could be a recipe for substantial migration.
I talked to travel agents, recruitment firms and bus companies. There was no evidence of an instant rush.
This is partly because the word on the street has long been that British immigration officers can turn you back at Dover and oblige you to return home at your own expense.
After decades of life under a communist bureaucracy, Poles are understandably nervous of officialdom. They also have strong family ties.
Most would far prefer to stay at home - if they could find work. But the urge to travel is undoubtedly there.
A recent opinion poll found that 47 per cent of Polish students would like to emigrate, although this may have more to do with their frustration at poor prospects for finding work at home.
Nevertheless, I met several students who already had a number of friends and acquaintances in Britain. It seems that they have come to earn money working in bars or in the fields and to improve their English. Most will go home before long.
This is entirely harmless - indeed it is very much to Britain's interest that the new countries of Europe should want to learn English. …