London should beware if the EU lets Turkey join
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?
How about a little bet of, say, L100, 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. (...)