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The government response to the A2 debate is doing more harm than good

The government has been battling against public debate about A2 migration. This has stirred up a domestic and international furore already – could we have a more long-term perspective please?
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Over recent weeks, public and parliamentary debate about immigration from A2 countries (Romania and Bulgaria) has continued to build. Much coverage has focused on the possibility that A2 nationals will flock to the United Kingdom for the sole purpose of registering to receive benefits and using the free NHS service for medical treatment.

This all started when Andrew Neil cornered Communities Secretary Eric Pickles on the possible numbers of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants coming to the UK once transitional restrictions are lifted on 1 Jan 2014. Pickles refused to give a number.

A hostile political debate about A2 migration has rapidly unfolded, with some MPs calling for tougher restrictions on areas such as social security and child benefits while others calling for all migration from the EU to stop. The government has also received further attacks from anti-immigration groups and papers about child benefits paid to children living abroad. A minority of MPs have voiced related concerns around a possible exodus of migrant workers from agricultural work after December 2013.

In response, the government has stepped up its efforts over the past week to ease public concerns about the impacts of a possible increase in immigration from Eastern Europe from next year. However, this has only fanned the heat in the debate.

Last week, Immigration Minister Mark Harper proposed an examination of whether he can restrict access to healthcare for A2 migrants – a policy likely to hit a brick wall given the maxim of EU law, which helps align all member-states with a common health policy and further supports carriers of the European Health Insurance card who have unrestricted access to state funded medical treatment – vice versa for Brits who find themselves needing medical treatment in EU and EEA countries.

The Department for Work and Pensions has also been active in responding to questions about access for A2 migrants to the UK benefits system. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith made clear last week that he intends to fight any legislation that would allow EU migrants to claim benefits “from day one” in the UK.

The government has also been keen to be seen as active in rebutting accusations that it will preside over an ‘open door’ policy on A2 immigration. The Home Office briefed reporters last week on a possible campaign that could be launched in Romania to make the UK a less attractive destination, only for the minister to immediately reject the claims on the Andrew Neil Daily Politics show. This furore has unsurprisingly caused some diplomatic tension with the Romanian Government and with the existing Romanian community in the UK feeling discriminated against.  

This government strategy seems to have more to do with playing to the Sun newspaper’s hostility towards Eastern Europeans instead of engaging with a discourse aimed at seriously addressing public concerns.  This is a short-term approach which has the potential to harm existing Romanian and Bulgarian communities in the UK if resentment and hostility towards them continues to build. Furthermore, triggering international tensions with these countries could have repercussions on Brits visiting or living there and a further impact on businesses aiming to invest in the UK.

At least now some ministers are beginning to discuss the possibility of Romanians and Bulgarians heading to other member states such as Spain, Germany, and France, as both the Treasury and the Foreign Office have acknowledged during parliamentary exchanges. However, defensive messaging about A2 migration from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office seems likely to continue – after all, these departments are under pressure from their goals to cut the welfare bill and reduce immigration to the ‘tens of thousands’ respectively. Both issues are going to be important issues within the pre-election campaign run by the Conservative Party.

We would urge politicians to be careful in their handling of the debate about A2 migration. Public concerns do need to be addressed, but the government should be seeking to unite the public around a balanced and proportionate response, rather than jumping to a knee-jerk reaction.

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Comments

I love Bulgaria and what Romanian people I have met, however... our country is struggling to exist itself as far a benefits is concerned. As a disabled person my benefits have been slashed even, and more to come. It is hardly right that we pay to support others coming to our country without them first making contributions to it.

Im not racist, I love all people... but it just isnt fair that a country that is struggling to support its own is required to support "guests".

I also feel that we SHOULD though, accept our neighbouring European countries people before we accept non European people (especially Middle Easterners).... it is right that all neighbouring countries support each other before we are treated as host for parasites, and there are not many parasites in Bulgaria nor Romania, that cannot be said for others from far away lands.

I know some people wont like my attitude, but someone has to say it. Amen

Daily I am reading bitter comments about immigrants, specially now about Romanians.
It seems that brits forgot all the benefits of EU now when they have to pay.
Last year the Major was happy with all immigrants as they needed labour to finish the Olympics new sites.
Now he is afraid of Romanians and Bulgarians.The Olympic Stadium in Stratford was built with immigrants, mostly Romanians.
Anyway they try to stop Romanians in all the ways they can to settle in the UK: the application for documents are processing in 11 months instead of the legal time of 6 months and most of the applications where refused for no grounds and if persons appeal judges always allowed the appeal; All Romanians receive refusal for Insurance Number, regardless all the documents they have or the facts their activity was confirmed from referee or clients.
It is shame that the UK forget so easy all the benefits they had from immigrants. It is shame they denigrate Romanians and Bulgarians which came here to work , not for benefits. And they either worked in construction industry or in hotels- and trust me no English women working as chambermaid, or in high skills sectors.
Hopefully they will understand and start this ridiculous campaign.

Why can't the politicians stand up and refute the scare mongering from the fascist press? The Sun and the Mail are the decision makers in this country.

The UK signed up for EU membership, then accepting Bulgaria and Romania as partners with full access from January 1st 2014 should be a given. The scare tactics being employed by some elements of the media as well as some die-hard nationalist will serve to harm British longstanding diversity, harmony and integration of all people. In actual fact, the sentiments being driven could have devastating consequences toward members of these two groups. Remember, negativity against a people will fan the flames of hate and Great Britain, unlike most other European countries will proudly talk about their resolve against the NAZI war machine...

Those with charisma, influence and power lead the charge which subtly lays the groundwork that could lead to unquestionable acts of violence and other discourtesies against members of these already persecuted groups. Yes, I do believe that some are already being persecuted due to injustices being faced by Bulgarian students being denied the opportunity to work for 20 hours per week (a UK Border Agency rule) while students from other parts of the world are being granted speedy permission.

I wish the UK luck with its future of promoting bitterness along with the apparent loss of humility and traditional hospitality to neighbours. Why not try planting the seed of hate where real immigrants bring the threat of terrorism to British shores rather than granting jaw-dropping reprieves to those already involved in highly questionable or in some cases, actual terrorist activities.

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