» Wednesday, February 11, 2004

EU Accession Immigration

Asked to clarify the Government’s position on arrangements for the accession countries, the PMOS said it was important to give context to this. The Prime Minister had said in the House that from the 1st May there would be freedom of movement across the 25 EU countries. The question was not therefore, ‘how do you prevent people from travelling to any country?’ The Government would not want to in any event, since it believed in the principle of freedom of movement. The question was, ‘what are the entitlements that people have if they go to another country?’ The Government had not yet laid the regulations for this and obviously there was still ongoing discussion within Government. The Government’s desire was to ensure that people did not, for example, come here for “benefit tourism” or “benefit shopping” etc. There was clearly an issue in respect of the right to work because obviously different countries had taken a different view, some had a derogation. However it should be clear that if a country derogated in terms of employment it didn’t mean that people could not still go to that country and perhaps work illegally. In the UK, where we had almost full employment and labour shortages in the South-East, there was an issue in terms of ensuring that if people came here and worked then they were economically active in a way that benefited the Exchequer. The position on that hadn’t changed.

Asked if there was absolutely no prospect of arrangements which mirrored those of, for instance, Italy or Germany in terms of limiting intake of workers, the PMOS said that the Government was still looking at some of those issues. Particularly as he, the Prime Minister and Dennis McShane had said in respect of some of the safeguards the UK could put in place to ensure that if we ended up with a situation that was unacceptable in terms of labour flows we could take appropriate action. These issues were still live and being discussed in Government. He would not want journalists to head off down a different route; our position on this had been consistent.

Put to him that the Government was stepping back from its original policy of allowing anyone who wanted to work here from the Accession countries to do so, the PMOS said that the point he was making was that people could still go to a country with a derogation and work albeit illegally. Put to him that in the case of the countries with derogation in place, they had tighter controls on their workforce because of ID cards, the PMOS said he didn’t dispute that there were issues in relation to ID cards as the Prime Minister had stated in the House today. We shouldn’t pretend however that there was no black economy in any country with ID cards.

Asked if it was the case that there was no possibility of anything being done by the Government whatsoever between now and May 1st to limit the right of all members of the EU states to come and live in the UK, the PMOS said that in terms of freedom of movement that was set out under the EU treaty. Asked if the Government had taken into account that even people simply living in the country would have profound affects on public services provision, the PMOS said that the Government was looking at this issue before regulations were laid to ensure the necessary safeguards were there. The point he was trying to distinguish was that even in the case of countries which had derogated, people would still have the ability to go there and work – just illegally rather than legally. So there was a slightly false choice being proposed.

Asked if, contrary to what Downing Street had said last week, the Prime Minister was talking about severely circumscribing the freedom of movement for workers, the PMOS said the Government had been consistent throughout. If journalists looked at the annex to the Accessions Act, as Dennis MacShane in a piece in the Evening Standard today had amplified, there was already scope within the Act to for the Government to act should it be necessary. Obviously that was one of the issues the Government was looking at in the context of laying these regulations. Put to him that the Government was intending to restrict the movement of workers, the PMOS said it was a question of looking at how you ensured that the benefit system in this country was not abused and how to have the necessary safeguards and measures in place, should they need to be implemented.

Asked to clarify what the Prime Minister had meant by “other measures” which were different from the safeguards in the Accession Act, the PMOS said the Government was looking at this issue and looking at tackling it in such a way that people could have confidence that the benefits system in this country was not abused and that the Government was able to take whatever action was appropriate, should it be appropriate if there was an influx of workers that caused a problem for the labour market. Put to him that these were not the “other measures” the Prime Minister was talking about, the PMOS said that given that there was still discussion within the Government on this issue, before the policy was set out – it wouldn’t be too long before the Government was ready to make an announcement – it wasn’t particularly helpful to say, “this might be X, this might be Y, or this might be Z.” What he was doing was setting out the parameters in which the Government was operating. Asked to clarify if we were not therefore going to follow the example of other countries in terms of setting limits, the PMOS said that some countries have derogated from this legislation, which we were not doing. What we had made clear, and what David Blunkett and indeed the CBI had made clear, was that we had in the UK a very good employment record which meant that there were skill shortages in certain areas. When the EU had enlarged previously there had been fears here of a vast influx of foreign workers which simply hadn’t happened.

The PMOS went on to say that if he was able to give clarity as to exactly where the Government was then he would do so since it would help him as well as them, however if that were the case then obviously the Government would be in a position to make an announcement and we weren’t yet.

Asked if, come what may on the 1st May, 74 million people who currently didn’t have the right to come and live in the UK would have that right – yes or no, the PMOS said this was a clear “headline alert”. He didn’t think that it was necessarily going to happen that all those people would emigrate to Britain on the 1st of May. There would be freedom of movement but he would leave journalists to interpret that for themselves, as no doubt they would.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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