On 1st January 2014, Britain opens its borders to Romania and Bulgaria, in a moment being greeted less with fanfare and more with reluctance. A heated public debate has polarised around two viewpoints. Some demand that the government must stop this, though the Home Office says it is simply not legally possible. A counter-view is that the entire debate about free movement is irrational at best and often downright xenophobic. The noisy political and media debate feeds into another unfortunate view, namely that the public should not be listened to on immigration or Europe.
In EU Migration from Romania and Bulgaria, we did the opposite – listened to the public’s views. We held workshops in Southampton, Reading and Bolton to find out how much people knew about the issues and what they thought could be done in response, followed up by a nationally representative ICM poll.
Despite impassioned polemics from all sides, we found considerable public uncertainty about the choices that Britain should make. This extension of free movement, and especially its timing, are certainly not popular – though a minority of one in six actively welcome it. Whether to stay in that club seems very much in the balance too: people are taking the option of getting out of the EU pretty seriously. The public also want more information about what is happening, and feel the politicians have failed to give them enough.