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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 February, 2004, 14:24 GMT
Migrant checks extend to Belgium
David Blunkett
Blunkett says there are labour gaps
UK border controls may be extended to Belgium in a new drive against asylum system abuses, home secretary David Blunkett has revealed.

Writing for the People newspaper, he said the government soon expected to replicate a deal struck with France.

The news comes a day before measures to manage migrant workers from the new EU member states are to be unveiled.

Mr Blunkett is likely to allow new EU citizens to work in Britain but limit access to benefits.

Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes told BBC1's The Politics Show the measures being announced by Mr Blunkett on Monday were designed to protect the benefits system when the new EU member states join.

And she rejected claims that the package had been put together at the last minute.

"We are not panicking," she said.

"The work has been going on for some time and the home secretary will announce the package of measures that we think will both enable us to meet our aspirations in terms of managed migration but also protect our benefits system."

Britain and Ireland are the only two EU countries to give the right to work to people from states like Poland and the Czech Republic from 1 May.

That has prompted fears there will be an influx of thousands of people.

Czech Republic

France currently allows British officials to check the documents of passengers boarding London-bound Eurostar trains in Paris.

Britain is proposing that this right be granted for Eurostar services originating in Belgium.

Mr Blunkett said new figures out this week would show the UK was "getting there" in tackling the asylum issue with "hard-hitting" laws that halved the monthly rate of claims since the figure peaked at 9,000 in October 2002.

But he said all governments faced difficulties with deporting failed asylum seekers.

"You can't just eject failed asylum seekers into outer space," he wrote in the People.

Tory concerns

Conservative leader Michael Howard is pressing for Britain to follow other nations by bringing in work permits as a transitional arrangement.

But the Liberal Democrats say ministers should stick to their guns on not using work permits.

All the new EU citizens will have the right to travel to Britain and Mr Blunkett argues that imposing work restrictions could encourage black market labour.

There are also gaps in the British labour market which need filling, he says.

Ministers say talk of a major influx from cities like Prague are nonsense

All existing member states are able to impose transitional restrictions for up to seven years on the right of residents of the eight of the 10 new EU member states to work and claim benefits.

The idea is that by the end of that period the economies of the new members will have grown, making it less likely that mass migration will follow.

The restrictions only cover the former communist states joining the EU.

Citizenship Ceremonies

Meanwhile, Beverley Hughes confirmed that the first citizenship ceremonies would go ahead this week, even though the government was not yet ready to introduce its planned citizenship tests.

"I think that the opportunity for people not only to go through a ceremony, but to be seen to go through a ceremony, is a powerful statement", she told The Politics Show.

Citizenship ceremonies will include an oath of allegiance to the Queen and the national anthem will be sung.

The compulsory ceremony will apply to anyone who applies for naturalisation this year.

First citizenship ceremony due
02 Feb 04  |  Politics

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