POLITICS

British Government Accused Of Hiding Behind 'Dubious' German Minister In EU Immigration Battle

07/03/2013 16:16 GMT | Updated 07/03/2013 16:54 GMT

The British government has been accused of "hiding" behind Germany and a minister with a "dubious and suspicious record" in a bid to bolster support for blocks on Eastern European immigration.

Theresa May is meeting EU Ministers in Brussels on Thursday to discuss whether Romania and Bulgaria should be allowed freedom to live and work across Europe.

However Germany's Interior minister whom Theresa May will be looking to for support on tougher measures for immigrants, is reported to have said "Islam has no place in our country" and has a volatile past in promoting social cohesion.

Tories have been keen to capitalise on Germany's support for visa restrictions as migrants' charities, anti-racism campaigners and Romanians and Bulgarians themselves all accused the government of stereotyping.

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Iain Duncan Smith said Britain faced a "crisis" of increased immigration from Romania and Bulgaria and invoked German support to bolster his case against relaxed border controls on Tuesday.

Duncan-Smith told ministers "I have called for another meeting of a series of European nations that share our concerns.

"Some people might have noticed today that Germany has woken up at last to the reality that it might face a large net migration. We are due to meet its representatives and others from around the EU to try to ensure that we deal with this. I do not believe that it is acceptable that we go on with it and we will resist it."

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The government has been keen to promote Germany's support in blocking free movement

In particular Duncan-Smith was referring to the German Interior, Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who in an interview with Der Spiegel earlier this week said if the issue goes to vote, Germany will veto the move to allow Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen visa area.

Germany's experiences were also brought up by Immigration Minister Mark Harper in December.

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Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich with Angela Merkel

Interior Minister Friedrich raised concerns over the potential abuses that could arise from allowing Bulgaria and Romania into the area, telling the magazine: "Those who acquire a visa through bribery could travel all the way to Germany without further controls." He also highlighted fears that some immigrants could merely travel to Germany to receive benefits and said he would like to crack down on attempted welfare fraud with greater penalties.

Concerns over so-called 'benefit tourism' echo fears from some quarters in Britain, with ministers reportedly considering welfare changes to be rushed in before Bulgarian and Romanian citizens gain full rights to move to the UK at the end of the year.

But invoking the words of Friedrich to raise support for measures that could potentially see benefits removed from British citizens is provocative.

Friedrich has a controversial history with minorities in Germany, causing outrage a year ago after telling journalists in: "Islam in Germany is not something supported by history at any point."

His comments were condemned by Islamic groups in Germany as "a slap in the face for Muslims."

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Theresa May shares a laugh with Friedrich as French Interior Minister Manuel Valls looks on

He further inflamed relations with the Muslim community in September of that year after pioneering a German ad campaign aimed at fighting Islamist radicalism, which Muslims labelled a "humiliation" and promoting suspicion of Muslims.

He was also slammed for bringing up security and terrorism at a Islam Conference in Berlin, with one integration minister saying "one should not mix security issues with religious questions. That is not appropriate."

hanspeter friedrich

Friedrich has condemned plans to relax immigration controls

As tension is ramped up over 'multicultural Europe' and fears over a 'tidal wave' of immigrants waiting to flood Britain are whipped to fever pitch, Ruth Grove-White from the Migrants' Rights Network said they had observed a "worrying development of a bloc of European leaders keen to ratchet up fears over immigrants."

She told the Huffington Post UK such fears were "feeding off a message from political leaders" and whipping up fears that could be potentially "explosive." She added: "This is not what we would expect from a united Europe. We expect leaders to promote cohesion rather than creating fears and divisions that could have potentially disastrous consequences."

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate said: "Hans Peter Frederich allegedly has a dubious and suspicious record and Britain is hiding behind that. Government scaremongering on Romanians and Bulgarians is deflecting attention from what's going on at home with welfare and the NHS and the economy.

"This [relaxing visa controls] is going to happen and the British government needs to get over it and allay people's fears. Given the state of the welfare system it is not likely to be open to abuse by people who've just arrived here. Talking about 'welfare tourists' is just ridiculous."