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Labour opened the doors wide

Before the Labour government under Tony Blair, immigration from the EU was substantial, but not overwhelming. That all changed in 2004, when Jack Straw at the Home Office opened the door to migrants from ten new EU members including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states.

Significantly, almost all the other countries in the EU decided to exercise their right to delay free movement from the ten new member states for up to seven years. Labour decided to open the doors at once. Straw later told the Lancashire Telegraph, “…we thought that it would be good for Britain if these folk could come and work here from 2004.”

That decision, taken outside parliament, was based on a confidential paper written by the Home Office itself. Full of impressive tables and opaque equations, it predicted – with the usual caveats – immigration from the ten new states of between 4,872 and 12,568 a year.

The predictions were so far out that in retrospect it seems the paper was written on another planet. In 2015, another study from University College London and written for the OECD found that 129,000 entered Britain from the new EU members in 2005 and 2006 alone. In 2007 the annual figure leapt again, to 112,000 in one year.

That’s just going by official figures. When Britain voted to leave the EU in 2016 the official estimate was of 3.5 to 4 million EU citizens living in the country. As of June 2022, 6.7 million EU citizens have applied for settled status.

• Related article: Why is immigration at record levels?