Backbenchers say restrictions should be kept in place despite threat of EU row over issue
The Tory right is planning to place further pressure on David Cameron’s relations with the EU by demanding a block on immigration from Romania and Bulgaria in 2014.
A group of backbenchers will build on their recent successes by calling for action against a feared influx of migrants. Temporary curbs imposed in 2005 on people from Romania and Bulgaria living and working in the UK will expire at the end of the year. Buoyed by Cameron’s offer of an in-out referendum, a growing number of Tory MPs now believe the UK should block the lifting of restrictions even if it were to prompt a row with the European commission.
The development will confirm in the eyes of Nick Clegg that Cameron has made a big strategic mistake over Europe, a message the deputy prime minister is expected to reiterate on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Along with a renewed self-confidence the Tory right is also fired up by the risk that Labour could outflank them on the issue. The opposition has suggested that if in power it would seek to extend the transitional curbs, with shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander calling last week for the EU to grant member states more flexibility.
Mark Pritchard, the MP for Wrekin, said the government should not wait for the EU referendum announced in Cameron’s speech last week before big decisions were made. Pritchard said: “The question now arises about continued EU migration from countries like Bulgaria and Romania and whether action should be taken on reducing EU migration over the next 12 months before transitional controls are lifted rather than waiting a full five years for further action”.
The home secretary, Theresa May, has previously suggested that it would be impossible to maintain controls on immigration from the EU’s newest states.
But in an escalation of the threat to Cameron, former ministerial aide Stewart Jackson MP told the Observer that he would introduce a bill in parliament to force the government’s hand if a ministerial group looking at the issue did not come up a solution soon.
He said: “I am considering it but I want to find out what is happening with the ministerial group being led by immigration minister Mark Harper. If they are going to bring forward proposals, then fine. If they are not then I would be strongly minded to come forward with a bill.”
The Home Office has not produced an official estimate of how many of the 29 million Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will take advantage of their new freedoms when controls are lifted. But some experts predict a large number of immigrants which could put pressure on British jobs and wages.
Jackson, who retired as parliamentary private secretary to the environment secretary Owen Paterson last year after voting against the whip in favour of a EU referendum, said: “The government needs to take this issue seriously.”
It is possible for the UK to put a stop to EU immigration in exceptional circumstances if it can persuade the European commission that the UK is in the grip of a crisis. Several European governments introduced temporary immigration controls when countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic joined the EU, to stop an influx of workers. France also threatened to reintroduce passport controls at the Italian border following an influx of Libyan and Tunisian refugees during the Arab spring.
Nick de Bois MP, secretary of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers, said: “I think we should learn the lessons of Labour’s failure to take whatever steps we can to manage the impact of people who understandably are going to try to come to the UK.”