01/01/2014 02:12 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 10:52 GMT

Romanian And Bulgarian Immigration 'Sideshow' Dismissed By Keith Vaz

Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive
Keith Vaz MP arrives at the Leveson Inquiry into media standards at the High Court in London to listen to evidence from John Yates.

The furore over immigration from Romania and Bulgaria is a "sideshow" compared to the wider issue of European Union migration, the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee has said.

From today, Romanians and Bulgarians have the same rights to live and work in Britain as all other EU citizens. The end to transition controls has led to warnings of an unsustainable influx of migrants into the country.

A range of fears have been expressed, from limiting the number of jobs available for British workers to taking advantage of the benefits system, and from so-called NHS tourism to a predicted surge in crime and homelessness.

But writing for The Huffington Post UK today, Keith Vaz said while there was no excuse for the government not to have made an attempt to try and estimate the numbers that would want to move to the UK, it was largely a distraction.

"The sheer scale of illegal migration from North Africa and Afghanistan, and now Syria makes the arrival of Romanians and Bulgarians practically a sideshow," he says.

"Greece has been overwhelmed by the annual arrival of over 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Their destination of choice is not Athens, but London and Paris."

"It is thus a matter of series concern that EU ministers have been unwilling or unable to tackle either the causes of this migration or fashion an effective plan to deal with it."

Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East, says a recent visit to Romania and Bulgaria by the home affairs committee "found it hard to find people who wanted to come and live in the UK" - despite the predictions the British borders would be rushed from January 1.

And he dismisses suggestions those that would want to come were merely looking for an excuse to abuse the UK's benefit system.

"Ask any migrant the reason why they want to come to the UK. It will not be for the benefits system or, for that matter, the quality of the beer. It is to work," he says.

He adds: "There are already 141,000 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens working in the UK . Many are self-employed. With the right to be employed they will be brought into the mainstream of the British economy, the big winner being the Treasury. Those who may have been the subject of exploitation can now move out of the shadows."

Vaz and other MPs on the committee will also be spending much of today at Luton Airport to observe the arrival of the first flight from Romania and to see how busy it is and how the border controls are functioning.