Labour was rocked yesterday by explosive new claims about its ‘disastrous’ policy on EU workers. Figures showed almost four times more EU citizens working here than Britons taking jobs on the continent.
Opposition parties said the figures destroyed the claim by Gordon Brown – who promised ‘British jobs for British workers’ – that there had been equal numbers travelling in each direction.
The Prime Minister made the claim only last week, during his encounter with Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy. But the EU’s own statistics authority, Eurostat, says there were just 287,600 UK nationals filling jobs elsewhere in the European Union in autumn 2008.
Some 1,020,000 citizens from other Euro countries are taking posts in the economy here – more than 500,000 from Poland and other Eastern European nations granted ‘open door’ access by the Government.
The revelations were put to immigration minister Phil Woolas during a live TV debate. Initially, he said he was surprised his opponents, the anti-EU UKIP party, ‘trusted’ figures from the EU’s official statistical body. He added: ‘You can bandy around figures as long as you want’, before insisting: ‘There are around 2.2million British people who live and work in the European Union.’
Critics pointed out Mr Woolas was not comparing like for like as he was counting Britons who simply live abroad, and may have retired.
In any case, his argument flatly contradicted figures given by the Prime Minister less than a week ago. In his exchange with Mrs Duffy, Mr Brown had insisted: ‘A million people come from Europe but a million British people have gone into Europe. ‘You know, there’s a lot of British people staying in Europe as well.’
Labour had the option of imposing transitional controls on Eastern European migrants in 2004, but chose not to. More than a million arrived – compared to the Government’s own estimate of 13,000 a year.
Around half are believed to have since gone home. Tory spokesman Damian Green said last night: ‘This Government is determined to mislead the British people about the effect of its immigration policy to the end. It is clear that the failure to put transitional controls on when the EU expanded was one of many disastrous decisions they have taken.
‘Ministers are simply in denial about why the British people are so angry about their failures of immigration policy.’
UKIP spokesman Nigel Farage, who produced the Eurostat figures, said: ‘These figures destroy the argument that we have a mutually beneficial open door with the EU’.
During heated exchanges, Mr Woolas repeatedly refused to say whether the two million increase in the migrant population under Labour had been a deliberate policy or an ‘accident’. But he insisted: ‘The benefits to our economy are clear for all to see.’
The Lib Dems also endured a torrid time during the BBC Politics Show debate. Spokesman Tom Brake confirmed the party planned an ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants who have been here for ten years or more, even though his leader Nick Clegg said last week that it should not be called ‘amnesty’.
Mr Brake also risked ridicule by saying the hugely controversial regional immigration policy, confining migrants to one area, would be piloted in Scotland, raising the prospect of controls on the border with England.