Just before Poland joined the EU, back in 2004 - and how long ago that seems - I had a chat with a press officer from the Home Office. The then Labour government had been suggesting that the number of Poles expected to come to Britain as a result of its accession would be in the region of 10,000. I put it to the press officer that this figure was a little optimistic. How did they know? And, more to the point, would he be prepared to put money on it?Source
How about a little bet of, say, £100, that the number of Poles coming here would be quite a bit more than that? The press officer laughed heartily. And then he said no, actually, he wouldn't be prepared to put money on it. But ministers were quite serious about their estimate; it was based on the views of experts.
To this day, I curse myself that I didn't press the man more on the bet. Because it turned out, of course, that the number of Poles who came to Britain was rather greater than that. By about three-quarters of a million, in fact.
The government's insouciance about the consequences of the expansion of the EU to the east, to include eight new members of which Poland was the biggest by a mile, was remarkable in retrospect. Poland and the other new states joined in May 2004. By the last quarter of that year, 116,000 people were working here from those countries, according to the labour force statistics.
By the first quarter of 2011 there were 629,000 people from Poland and the other East European states working in Britain. If you add to that figure their dependants and those on benefits the figure looks more like three quarters of a million. Quite a bit more than 10,000, then.
That miscalculation came to mind this week when the Home Affairs Select Committee issued a report saying it is worried about the potential consequences of Turkish accession to the EU. Turkey is already a candidate for membership, as a result of Tony Blair's and Jack Straw's efforts during Britain's EU presidency. And Turkey is a much bigger country than Poland, nearly twice as big, in fact. The Turkish population now is officially 76 million; Poland had only 40 million.
The committee, led by chairman Keith Vaz, says Turkey needs to do more to tighten border controls before it gets full membership. Drug- and people-smuggling through Turkey is already a problem; the committee thinks it might get worse once it joins the EU.
Mr Vaz also raises the issue of how many Turks might want to come here after accession. Good question. Any citizen of an EU country, remember, has the right to live and work in any other EU state. The committee's estimate of the number of Turks who might want to emigrate to the European Union as a whole is between half a million and
4.4 million by 2030. That strikes me as precisely the kind of back-of-the-envelope sum that produced the underestimate of Polish arrivals.
Let's spell this out. If Turkey gets full membership of the EU, assuming France or Germany doesn't veto it, then an unknown number of its 80 million-odd population would have the right to live and work here or anywhere else in the European Union. We just don't know how many. And it's worth remembering that the Turkish population is increasing and highly mobile precisely because it is so young; the UN says it could reach 97 million by 2050.
The potential consequences should make our hair curl: this would make a nonsense of any notion of Britain being able to control immigration, one of the most highly charged political issues by any reckoning. The only immigration that ministers can do anything about is people wanting to enter from outside the EU. When it comes to a new member state, all they can do is delay their right to come for a limited period, seven years. After that, it's a free-for-all.
Granted, there's a Turkish population here already of about half a million people, much of it in London, and that community is very much part of the vibrant ethnic mix. I may say in passing that all the Turks I know are delightful. The thing is, though, that immigrants tend to head for cities where they can join people from their own country; London would be an inexorable draw for young Turks wanting out, especially from the impoverished east.
The real objection, though, to Turkey joining the EU is more fundamental than that. Turkey isn't really European at all, so much as Asian. Only about three per cent of its land mass is in Europe, on our side of the Bosphorus; 97 per cent is in Asia. Its accession would expand our common EU borders to Iraq, Iran and Syria. Is that honestly what we want?
The most common response by British ministers to objections to Turkish membership is that it encourages moderate Islam by showing that a non-extremist Muslim nation can be part of the European family. That, plus strategic considerations, is why the US is so much in favour of the idea.
Well, if we want to show that Muslims can indeed be part of Europe, let's expedite the membership of those genuinely European countries with large or majority Muslim populations: Albania, anyone? Kosovo? Bosnia? If we're so keen on outreach to Islam, let's start there.
And moderation, when it comes to Islam, is pretty relative, after all. Turkey isn't going to go for sharia law any time soon but a recent poll conducted by Istanbul's Bahcesehir University suggested that 48 per cent of respondents would not want Christians as neighbours, more than half wouldn't want Jews; four-fifths didn't want homosexuals. Moderate Islam, eh?
The trouble is, support for Turkish membership of the EU is now a kind of cross-party political orthodoxy, something that it's positively in bad taste to oppose: last year, David Cameron said he was the "strongest possible advocate" of it joining. Support for Turkey in the EU is shorthand for tolerance, a way of showing that we're keen on what a Bosnian friend calls "multi-multi" - a multi-ethnic, multicultural mix. But if millions of Turks come to Britain and Europe as a result of EU membership, the consequences for London and its ethnic equilibrium could be much bigger than the advent of the Poles. And quite possibly, far less benign.
Friday, 5 August 2011
London should beware if the EU lets Turkey join
One of the very rare articles in the British press expressing scepticism about Turkish entry to the EU: