S&A, liberal immigration, and not relying on 2nd hand information.

When researching the very crucial issue, about the conditions for strawberry workers employed by S&A, in the Independent; I came across this article, which bore a curious claim that made conditions for the Migrant workers more difficult than I had realised, one which I had not expected:

A camp in Marden, seven miles south of Leominster, houses 1,400 workers, most of whom are Romanians and Bulgarians who, unlike other eastern Europeans, have limited working rights in the UK and cannot change jobs.

This surprised me because I had learnt, or thought I had learnt, in an interesting panel debate about a year ago in which an anonymous gentleman from the Conservative party was chairing, that Britain had one of the most liberal European immigration systems, other member states of the EU having chosen to temporarily opt-out of free movement scheme for new Member states under the Treaty of Accession 2003 and the Treaty of Accession 2005. This was due to an exchange concerning the immigration system of Britain, in which I chose to dispute the idea that we had an unusually liberal approach. I pointed out to my friend that the bulk of liberal immigration was in fact an EU-wide policy, and that outside of it our immigration system was not known for being particularly liberal; to which I got the above response.

Intrigued at the re-opening of what I thought was a closed case (tactical victory on the part of my friend), I decided to do a little research into the subject, and break with the habit of a lifetime and by not relying solely on information generously shared by my peers.

Interestingly, the picture I have gained has been curiously different from that nobly supplied by this friend, whose authority is now in doubt.

According to the chart helpfully supplied by Wikipedia, the United Kingdom in fact not merely does opt-out of the free movement clause for some of the newly accessed member states of the EU, but in fact many of the other countries in the EU do not.

By opting out of the requirements of free movement of workers for both Bulgaria and Romania until at least 2012, Britain is outranked on the “liberal immigration policy” front by:

  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Italy (which opts out for the same countries, but only until 2010)
  • Greece
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Sweden

— and this is excluding the newly accessed countries in the EU – all the countries that I have compared with entered the EU in 1994 at the latest.

Contrary to the popular belief that the French always opt-out of any mildly controversial EU requirements, they are in fact equally liberal to Britain on the free movement of workers policy, opting out only for Bulgaria and Romania until 2012. Other countries on an equal footing to Britain on this front are Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg (one of the sites of the EU Parliament!) and Ireland.

Countries with less liberal immigration systems to the United Kingdom within the European Union are, actually, in the minority. These include Germany and Austria. Hang on, it’s only Germany and Austria. Oh well, so much for our leading the board on anything. If we can’t lead on liberal immigration, what can we achieve?

Light-hearted rivalry aside, I continue to urge anyone who finds the issue of conditions for workers in Brierly and Marden energising to get involved in some way, particularly as the inability to look elsewhere for work minimises the choices for workers who have found themselves with far less work then they expected. The Friendship Centre in Leominster is one of the leading bodies in scrutinising S&A Davies, and Herefordshire councillor Peter McCaull is also involved with highlighting the issues.

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