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Anti-British ad campaign is just one more absurdity in UK immigration debate

Getty Images / Peter Macdiarmid
Life in London isn’t as grand as you might think.
By Lily Kuo
LondonPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The latest idea for border control in the United Kingdom? Anti-British ad campaigns in countries likely to send migrants. British ministers are reportedly considering placing negative ads in Bulgaria and Romania to discourage migration when restrictions on the two countries are lifted at the end of the year.

The public information campaign would serve to “correct impressions that the streets here are paved with gold,” an official told the Telegraph over the weekend. Prime Minister David Cameron’s office did not respond to questions about the possible measure. Nonetheless, the idea, which a member of the opposition Labour party called bordering “on the farcical,” gets at how extreme debate over immigration can get in the UK.

This ad from 2007 aimed at Belgian tourists says, “Attention, London is just around the corner.”

British jitters over immigration stem from a few things. We’ve already reported how its economy is on the verge of a triple-dip recession. Its current migrant community is blamed for at least some of the country’s economic troubles. This isn’t helped by the fact that UK authorities have gotten immigration estimates wildly wrong before: When the UK opened its borders to Poland and other new EU members in 2004, the then Labour government estimated only about 15,000 would immigrate. Instead, over 700,000 people from poorer Eastern European nations have flooded into the country over the past decade. The rush prompted the UK to impose restrictions on immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania, which hadn’t yet joined the EU at the time.

According to a survey published in early January, one in three Britons said tension between immigrants and British nationals was a major cause of division. In 2010, about 75% of residents in the UK said they favored reducing immigration, according to the Migration Observatory at Oxford. Capitalizing on that sentiment, the current government has promised to cut migration into the country by tens of thousands by 2015. Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, apologized last year on the party’s behalf for the immigrant flood on its watch.

The idea that the UK can no longer afford to keep an open border to the EU has become a common refrain. But a flood of Bulgarian and Romanian workers after the restrictions are lifted in December 2013 is unlikely. As the Independent points out in an editorial:

When Poland and others joined the EU, the UK was the only large member-state to open its labour market; in 2014, by contrast, all major European economies are lifting controls. Most Romanians, for instance, are expected to go to Italy, Spain and France, with which they have linguistic and cultural links, and where many already have relatives. Those deterred by the high rate of youth unemployment in those countries are more likely to head for Germany and the Netherlands than Britain.

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