In recent days I have read a Tweet saying that if the next British General Election is fought on the issue of immigration then Labour will lose. I have also heard a report of a study on what the main election issues in 2015 will be. With the improving economy at the top of the list is immigration. So like it or not immigration into the UK will be hotly debated during the election campaign and Labour needs to be prepared.
It is right and proper that immigration should be openly discussed in Britain and people’s fears addressed. However there is a thin line between talking about immigration and that slipping over into xenophobic or racist attacks.
There are those on the far right of the Conservative ranks and in UKIP who are happy to discuss immigration dressed up as xenophobia. Indeed there are those in the present Conservative – Lib Dem coalition who are frightening people with tales of a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians heading for our shores in 2014. This campaign reaches back to both of those countries where people feel they are the undeserved victims of racist attacks by our very own government.
This came to a head last week when MEPs’ Corina Cretu, who is vice-president of the S&D Group and Catalin Ivan, the head of Romanian delegation in European Parliament, sent an open letter to the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron. They voiced their country’s concern over the aggressive and populist way in which Great Britain regards the elimination of restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers. They have asked David Cameron to publicly condemn xenophobe and extremist messages launched by some politicians and in press campaigns, largely it has to be said in the Tory supporting media.
The letter stated: “We invite you to underline, in a firm and public message, the fact that Britain’s Government respects the European legislation and will cancel the restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers starting from January 1, 2014.” As far as I am aware Cameron is yet to respond.
The Romanian MEP’s criticized the ambiguity of Britain’s Government that encourages press campaigns against the rights and dignity of Romanian’s as European citizens. Corina Cretu and Catalin Ivan have condemned the racism and xenophobia of some political and public statements in Great Britain, pleading at the same time for condemnation without hesitation of such racist attitudes.
The two Romanian MEPs pointed to recently published data regarding the positive presence and the strong work ethic of immigrants in UK and believe the Prime Minister should use these facts to take a stand against extremist and xenophobe speeches directed towards Romanians. They referred specifically to a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report which indicates there is significant proof that immigrants bring increased value to production potential and to the level of demand in the UK’s economy, increasing the long term GDP. Also, 63 per cent of the CBI members stated that free movement of the workers in EU had a positive effect on their businesses. On the other hand, only 1 per cent of CBI members stated that immigrants had a negative impact on their businesses.
Catalin Ivan observes that the British Prime Minister should know these facts as he was present at the CBI conference.
In their open letter to Cameron the two Romanian MEPs stated: “We cannot accept all these deviant nuances of public speech towards extremism and xenophobia, especially when they are based on ridiculous exaggerations and on inducing the fear of immigrants for Britain’s citizens.”
Romania, like other former Communist Bloc countries in the EU, badly needs investment. Both these Romanian social-democrats want to encourage investors from UK to come to Romania and to create well-paid jobs so the two countries can work in partnership and not be at racist odds.
Whether the letter from Cretu and Ivan will receive a reply from David Cameron remains to be seen. Whether he steps in to put a stop to the xenophobic and racists attacks will be the litmus test of his personal beliefs. His actions will also set the tone for the wider immigration debate that the UK is heading for.
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 22 2013).