A failure of nerve on immigration from accession states

Britain deserves better than a knee-jerk ban on Bulgarian and Romanian migrants

Closing the door to Romanians and Bulgarians is not irrational. No nation should be obliged to provide unlimited access to its labour market. Only free-market ultras believe that a territory can arrive, without help, at a kind of benign population homeostasis. Labour markets don’t ‘clear’, at least not overnight.

Still, I think we’ve missed an opportunity in making such a politically contingent decision. This is a profoundly unpragmatic act, a refusal of the lessons we’ve learnt from previous EU accessions. Poles and Czechs are active now in the UK economy, visible members of society, coming and going when they feel like it in their late model Renaults and Toyotas. They’re not skulking in the shadows of the black economy – economically immobile, held back by their inability to participate fully.

They’re a dynamic new component in the economic life of the nation. Restricting the Bulgarians and Romanians to reserved occupations will leave them in the limbo of the illegal economic migrant, forbidden to pay tax and inhibited from going home because of the fear they might not be able to return to Britain later.

We should have held our nerve, kept the borders open and resisted the hysterical xenophobia of the tabloids. Instead we’ve handed the racists and the isolationists an easy political victory. Pity.

Handy Bulgaria and Romania Q&A from BBC News Online.