The UK Immigration Invasion That Never Was

No extra flights, empty seats – the lack of stampeding Bulgarians and Romanians shows the rightwing hysteria for what it was.

Terminal five at Heathrow airport

‘Advance air bookings from Bulgaria and Romania are down for the first three months of the year compared with 2013.’ Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Luton airport became a political hadron collider, where the rhetoric of fear of the past few months over immigration crashed into the charged particle beam of hard reality. The aftermath revealed commons home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz and Conservative MP Mark Reckless outside the arrivals gate, like hapless limousine drivers waiting in the wrong terminal, holding up a card which read “Mr Something-escu”.

They found someone eventually. It turns out that Victor Spirescu was not here to claim benefits, beg, steal, have an expensive heart operation, six children, get a council flat and assassinate the Queen. He was just here to wash cars, pay tax and, eventually, go back home with his savings to repair his house.

This was no fluke either. Transport data shows that no extra flights or coaches were scheduled from Romania or Bulgaria, advance air bookings are down for the first three months of the year compared with 2013, and there were plenty of seats available at prices as low as £135.

“The Holiday Invasion That Never Happened” sounds like a Doctor Who special. But then again, it always was fiction. The fiction that one can have a pick ‘n’ mix arrangement with other countries, with no repercussions for international trade or millions of Brits living outside the UK. The fiction that a country can be a more effective player on the global stage by becoming insular and xenophobic. The insidious fiction that what stood between us and prosperity was a hypothetical Bulgarian.

No doubt it will be claimed that measures, taken at the eleventh hour to deter immigration, worked; despite reason dictating that most people plan such a life-altering move more than a month in advance, which was when the government started trying to out-Ukip UKIP. No doubt those tabloids that love to bash migrants will uncover one who came here to claim benefits and make them front page news. No doubt Nigel Farage will latch onto some spurious statistic, that 60% of all robberies, in a rural Post Office, between 65 and 72 sq ft, on a sunny day, were perpetrated by someone whose name ends in -ov, then tout it across the BBC programmes that obligingly provide a soapbox for his nonsense.

The fact remains that this morning, Brits woke up to find there was not a Bulgarian family squatting in their front garden; that their job had not been stolen by some crafty Romanian who spoke no English; that they had been completely, unnecessarily, cynically manipulated into panic. Let’s hope they wake up to the understanding that immigration is a convenient distraction, which they can choose not to allow to cloud their vision.

To the few who did arrive, and continue to trickle in, to Mr Spirescu, I say “welcome”. The risk migrants choose to take in uprooting their entire lives, the gumption they show in starting over, the ingenuity required in negotiating a completely unknown and hostile environment, the pure desire to be here, is precisely what this country needs more of.

– The Guardian