The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has called on the UK government to act to limit the number of immigrants coming to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania next year when the 'transitional controls' on the free movement of citizens of those countries will be removed.
Mr Johnson was answering questions at 'Mayor's Question Time' at City Hall, the Home of the Greater London Authority. He said that the government should take steps to renegotiate the EU rules that will allow Romanians and Bulgarians to come to the UK from 2014 onwards. He said 'I am concerned that immigration from Bulgaria and Romania, unless properly handled, will lead to an increase in rough sleeping of the kind we've seen from previous accession countries. It may be sensible for us to consider what derogations or improvements we could make to the current deal on accession.'
Romania and Bulgaria became member states of the EU in 2007. Membership of the EU allows citizens of member countries to travel to work anywhere within the Union. When new member states join however, existing EU states are entitled to put in place temporary restrictions on that movement known as 'transitional controls'. Some EU Countries feel that this is important to prevent a sudden, unmanageable wave of migration.
Most EU states put these controls in place in 2007. The controls can last for seven years and will come to an end on 1 January 2014.Controls are still in place in a number of EU member states. The EU constitution does not allow for restrictions to continue beyond 2013.
Many in Britain have been especially concerned about the controls coming to an end because of the experience of May 2004 when Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and various other countries joined the EU. The UK did not impose any restrictions on people from those states coming to the UK. The UK government said, before the countries joined the EU, that it was unnecessary to put transitional controls in place because it was likely that only somewhere between 5,000 and 13,000 people would come to the UK each year. In fact, some estimates suggested that as many as 600,000 Poles had come to the UK by mid-2006.
Public opposed to relaxation of restrictions
The latest UK census, carried out in 2011 shows that Polish is now the second most spoken language in the UK and suggested that over 1m Poles settled in the UK between 2004 and 2011. A recent poll suggested that 79% of the public is opposed to the relaxation of restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians coming to the UK.
However, it would be extremely difficult for the UK to negotiate any further controls on migration from the EU. Interviewed on the BBC's Andrew Marr show in January, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that movement of people was one of the 'key freedoms' of the EU. However, Mr Cameron did say that he would look at some way of limiting the right of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to claim benefits in the UK.
Mr Johnson is usually seen as an advocate for immigration. He has spoken out in favour of more freedom for businesses to employ workers from overseas and is in favour of making it easier for students to come to study in the UK and, in particular, in London.
Mr Johnson made it clear that he would continue to support skilled immigration.
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