Why It Was Right to Allow Poles into UK in 2004

Polish Citizens and UK in 2004 Letter in Guardian 30 March 2015
Labour was right not to leave the hundreds of thousands of Poles and other eastern European citizens hidden in the black labour market after 2004 (How immigration came to haunt Labour, 24 August). Ryanair and easyJet were flying back and forth to main Polish cities well before 2004, as Poles replaced the Irish as cheaper labour, well before EU accession. The Labour government decision at the time of a booming, full-employment economy meant any incoming workers paid national and local taxes and national insurance, rented property legally, started their own small businesses such as shops, and some joined unions.
Most other EU member states which applied a seven-year transition period on labour-market access after 2004 quietly shelved it, as people could travel freely and simply worked in the black labour market. Italy and Spain have more than 750,000 Romanian immigrants, but Poles, thanks to a dense network of Polish communities in the UK since 1945, headed here. The decision not to continue the black labour market in 2004 was the right one. I sat in the cabinet committee and it is to the honour of David Blunkett and the then cabinet minister, Andrew Smith, that they opted for the sensible economic and tax-generating decision rather than surrender to populist anti-foreign prejudice.
However, what might have made a difference would have been the adoption of the EU agency workers directive, which would have stopped employment agencies coming along offering cheaper labour to firms if they got rid of staff and hired agency workers without rights. However, the Treasury opposed tooth and nail this or other measures such as social-partnership training obligations, which would have helped British workers. The awful BNP slogan of “British jobs for British workers” should have been replaced by EU workplace rights for British workers, but, sadly, the Treasury team were opposed to such measures.
Dr Denis Macshane

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