EAST EUROPEANS? DON’T WORRY HOW MANY COME HERE
Tony Blair’s brief in July 2002 to the new head of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), Bill Jeffrey, was characteristically confusing. Jeffrey should sharply reduce the number of illegal migrants and chase bogus students, said Blair.
On the other hand, he added: ‘I’m all for good immigration.’
Jeffrey appeared to be unaware of ‘managed migration’ and how controls had been relaxed under the guise of work permits.
Home Secretary David Blunkett had reached an understanding with Blair about immigration. The two had discussed whether the citizens of eight European states (known as the A8 nations) due to become members of the EU in May 2004 should be allowed to work in Britain immediately.
Other EU countries, including Germany, planned to delay such privileges for seven years.
Initially, Blair was wary about lifting all restrictions on migrants from the new EU states. His misgivings were addressed during a trip to Warsaw, where his hosts in the British embassy described the virtues of allowing unlimited numbers of Poles into Britain.
‘Let’s be good Europeans,’ Blair was told by the Foreign Office’s senior representative.
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘We shouldn’t worry about numbers.’
In London, the Treasury’s Permanent Secretary Andrew Turnbull agreed. The Germans, he thought, were ‘crazy’ to pass up the opportunity of employing hard-working East Europeans. The only concern was public opinion. People were alarmed by what some Blair aides called ‘the immigration tinderbox’.
The solution, everyone agreed, was simple: they would just avoid mentioning numbers.
‘Is this handleable?’ Blair asked.
‘Yes,’ replied Blunkett. ‘It’s legal migration, which we can control.’ The truth, as both knew, was the opposite.
Since the IND could not even guess at the numbers intending to come after their countries’ accession, Home Office officials seized upon a report produced by Christian Dustmann, of University College London.
Dustmann’s research for the EU estimated that only 13,000 Poles would arrive in 2004.
(Between May 2004 and June 2007, 430,000 Poles applied to the Home Office Worker Registration Scheme. As the scheme is voluntary, the true figure is thought to be much higher).
IND officials were dubious about Dustmann’s investigation, but the report’s academic label suppressed any controversy.
‘We didn’t spell it out because of fear of racism,’ Blunkett would later say. ‘We were on the side of the angels.’
Unknown to the public, the ‘angels’ in the government did not know how many foreigners would be coming into Britain or from which countries they would come. No civil servant was even asked to make an inspired guess.