One achievement of which I am very proud was my part in ensuring that the UK did not place restrictions on the right to free movement of the first EU Eastern European accession wave. The arrival of so many Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Latvians etc in the UK has been a brilliant social and cultural development and provided some support for an economy wrecked by the reckless greed of bankers.
There can be no more stark illustration of the tiny political space occupied by the major political parties and portrayed by the mainstream media as the only “serious” political opinion, than New Labour’s shrill contention that the bankers of RBS/Natwest should only be allowed 100% of salary as a bonus and not 200%. Why not about 5% like other civil servants, which is what they are.
To return to the subject, free movement of peoples is a great thing. I do not want governments to tell people where they can and cannot go. It is wonderful that I can wake up tomorrow and decide to settle in Trieste or Gorzow Wielkopolski, without permission from anybody. Don’t take it for granted, think about it – isn’t it wonderful?
My role? I was First Secretary Political and Economic in the British Embassy in Warsaw when the question of our attitude to free movement on accession was decided, and I produced a paper on the subject. I researched it quite assiduously, including a meeting with the five Romany Kings of Poland in the castle at Oswiecim – Auschwitz. My conclusion was that there would be no mass migration, but many young Polish people might typically come for a few years to work and earn money to start a home back in Poland. My paper was influential and I was much congratulated. Incidentally, I very much underestimated how many Polish people would come, but I am unrepentant – in fact extremely happy about it.
When I first achieved serious political consciousness, in my teen years, I should have been horrified if you had told me that in my lifetime the government would defend the receipt of intelligence from torture and indefinite detention without trial, and much educated opinion would agree. I would not have believed the government would pay for poster vans going round with signs telling immigrants to go home. And I would not have believed that some poor Romanian chap arriving in the UK would have been hounded by reporters- to general approbation – because of his ethnicity.
The fundamental worries about Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants do have one rational basis. More than any other EU states, Romania and Bulgaria were admitted despite the fact that they blatantly did not meet the acquis communitaire across the full range of economic and governance measures. The decision to pretend they did was fundamentally dishonest, and that will always have future ill-effects. Romania and Bulgaria are less developed, worse governed and therefore more prone to mass economic emigration.
While I deprecate the dishonesty of pretending they met the acquis, however I did and do support their membership of the EU. It was the right strategic move. An approach that said, “you do not meet the acquis, but we will admit you to membership, now let’s work out the consequences” would have had better success. The EU’s great mistake at present is not offering a fast track to very early membership to Ukraine on a similar basis.
In a couple of decades Bulgaria and Romania will have caught up. I expect that, because of the difficulties of the societies from which they come in terms of crime and governance, it is not unlikely that there will be a larger proportion of social problems from these new immigrants than from other recent Eastern European immigration, and doubtless we will see these trumpeted in the racist press. But in the long run, it is another great addition to our country and increase to our own freedoms. I must go look at the countryside of Eastern Romania.