Conservative MPs slug it out at ‘rag, tag, and bobtail’ Westminster Hall debate
Lansley objected to Wishart’s claims saying the SNP MP lived “in some kind of fantasy world” and Farage “is not pulling strings”. These knockabout gibes were staged to set the scene for the upcoming debate in Westminster Hall on potential immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. With 16 backbench Conservative MPs, 2 from Labour, and virtually none from any other party, the debate was often lopsided, and the Immigration Minister Mark Harper MP had to joust with his own very angry MPs.
Nigel Mills MP, the lead for the debate who is also responsible for stalling the government’s Immigration Bill, launched into a speech blaming his ministerial colleagues for not giving him the opportunity to debate his amendment to the Immigration Bill. He added that immigration continues to grow and it would be unlikely that the government would meet its net migration target if Bulgarian and Romanian migrants are allowed to come here en masse, which his amendment would have put to a stop to.
Much of the debate centred on the disparities of wealth between existing EU states and new accession states, in particular, migrants from Eastern European countries who would earn more money in the UK. The government’s proposed crack-down on benefit tourism was dismissed as “too little, too late” by Tory MP John Baron who added that:
The vast majority come here to work, and they work hard. They come not because of the benefits, but because the average salary here is so much higher than in their home country.
Philip Hollobone and others mentioned the potential for criminality, going as far as to claim “we are importing a wave of crime from Romania and Bulgaria” and Christopher Chope MP adding that certain groups of Romanians have a propensity to “engage in low-level crime”.
Migration Watch UK was mentioned a number of times as providing a helpful figure on the likely number of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants to enter the UK. Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth, dismissed the Migration Watch UK estimates as “disingenuous” and “slightly misleading” because they compare “the Polish numbers then with Romanian and Bulgarian numbers now”. He was admonished by Hollobone for not reading “Migration Watch’s report more closely”.
Ellwood was the only voice in the sea of hostility to “add some facts and figures, and indeed corrections, to some of the quite barmy assumptions” in Westminster Hall and the wider media debate. Mark Reckless MP, another Tory and a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, accused Ellwood of being narcissistic as he painted the immigration debate as a battle between “little Englanders... versus the multicultural open-door approach”.
Ellwood added that Bournemouth was heavily reliant on overseas workers and international investment and leaving the EU “will damage or possibly kill off genuine international interest in inward-investment opportunities, as well as export prospects and British influence abroad.”
The parliamentary debate about EU migration and immigration in general is becoming contested and bitter. While the government’s mantra of inviting the ‘best and the brightest’ to come to the UK and simultaneously creating a ‘hostile environment’ for irregular migrants continues to reduce net migration, Conservative backbenchers are openly saying they’d prefer if other countries’ brightest individuals stayed at home and kept their low skilled migrants there too.
Mark Harper is now under intense pressure to deliver the government’s first Immigration Bill in a timely fashion while fending off angry Tory MPs demanding not only more draconian cuts to migration but using EU migration as a shadow boxing exercise for the looming great debate on the European Union. The minister could use more support from the likes of Ellwood and Brooks Newmark MP.