Not Saussure

September 24, 2006

John Reid about to get his collar felt by reality?

Filed under: EU, hubris, nemesis, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 11:47 am

As has been pointed out in several places over the last few weeks, including this blog, talk by John Reid about restricting entry to the UK by Romanians and Bulgarians when their country joins the EU next year is so much twaddle. The government can’t legally stop them coming here; all it can do is make it illegal for them to work when they get here, thus making them work illegally; as the think tank Open Europe explain

Supposedly tough “quotas” for legal work could potentially lead to the worst of all worlds: those who come to seek work legally, pay tax and contribute to society would be turned away, while criminals and those who come with no intention of working would still be let in.

Now, it seems, the facts — the brutes — are catching up with Dr Reid; the BBC report that

Senior Whitehall sources have accused the home secretary of trying to “box the government into a policy” by saying there would be limits on the number of Romanians and Bulgarians allowed to work in Britain once their countries joined the EU.
The BBC’s Politics Show was told there had been no discussion in cabinet on whether to end this country’s “open door” policy towards Eastern European migrants, and claimed John Reid’s comments had caused “intense irritation at the highest levels of government”.

And that Dr Reid is accused by ‘Whitehall sources’ of attempting to “box the government into a policy just to satisfy the gaping jaws of the media” (as if!). And, understandably, they aren’t best pleased;

The Politics Show has been told Mr Reid’s comments caused further “unhappiness” because they might have oversold what the government can realistically do to reduce the flow of migrants, creating an impression Britain can “raise the drawbridge and stop people coming in”

which, of course, they can’t.

All this must have been obvious to senior Home Office officials, if not to the man himself, before he started sounding off. Why didn’t they stop him? I suspect that — not best pleased about Reid’s announcements about not fit for purpose and generally useless they are — they’ve employed a senior civil servant’s most devastating weapon against a minister, and stopped warning him when he’s about to say something stupid. This invariably lands the minister in deep trouble very rapidly, not because ministers are necessarily stupid but because they don’t generally know much in detail — they can’t, because they aren’t in post that long — about the work their department does.

If anyone remembers Edwina Currie’s problems with making rash pronouncements about salmonella in eggs, I’m told this is what happened to her; she’d been foisted on Ken Clarke, who couldn’t stand her, by Mrs Thatcher at the Department of Health and he decided the best way to get rid of her was to tell his civil servants that when she was about to make a fool of herself, they should go ahead and let her. She didn’t last long.

UPDATE When I wrote this, I hadn’t seen The Sunday Telegraph, to which I was led by Tim Worstall. Apparently, the Home Secretary proposes to ignore the law (not for the first time, as his frequent brushes with the judiciary — who ‘just don’t get it’ — will attest. Says the Telegraph,

A “points system” is to be imposed on workers from Romania and Bulgaria in an attempt to stem the growing tide of immigration to the UK.John Reid, the Home Secretary, is to use his speech to the Labour Party conference, which starts today, to reveal the scheme, based on qualifications and experience, to limit the number of immigrants from the two new EU accession states.

The scheme will be similar to that used for migrants from outside the EU.

Labour Party officials have told The Sunday Telegraph that Mr Reid is determined to show that the Government is “getting tough” on immigration as the public’s concern grows over the waves of foreign workers coming into Britain.

As Tim Worstall points out,

So, how’s this going to work then? People from Romania and Bulgaria will have an absolute right to come to the UK, to live here, rent and buy houses, they can simply swan through the ports and the airports by waving their passports. It would be illegal to not allow them in on the basis of their nationality. That’s what the free movement of people, part of the foundation of the EU, means.Denying them the right to work is indeed possible but what effect does anyone think it will have? Correct, they’ll just come here and work illegally. Does anyone really think that expanding the black and grey economies is a good idea?

This won’t, of course, be the first time that HMG has introduced an absurd and unworkable law because it wants to send a message; the Sexual Offences Act 2003 contrives to outlaw teenagers kissing each other and , at least in theory, an adult couple hugging each other the wrong way within sight of a child. Despite widespread criticism, the government kept the provisions in — though took the unusual step of announcing it had no intention of enforcing them in most cases — because it didn’t want to send the wrong message.



  1. Some good points raised here.

    I do feel that government policy takes no stock of the feelings of the British working classes that their wages are being undercut by the throngs of cheap east block labourers that are flooding in.

    Anyone that denies this is in a severe state of denial, or like the BBC journalist Tom Bradby, not in a job where he is threatened by a migrant.

    Wages ARE being undercut and local workers are being ignored.

    Comment by Glen — November 23, 2006 @ 6:40 pm

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