The Labour government decided to let people from the A8 eastern and central European countries that had just joined the EU to have free access to the UK from 2004. Most other member countries delayed the point at which free movement from these countries was allowed. As a result, we had a large influx of migrants from Poland and other countries from 2004.
The received wisdom seems to be that this was a huge mistake. Jack Straw called it a spectacular mistake. Ed Miliband said the government had got it wrong. I’m reminded of this by Ian Jack, who recently in the Guardian gave us eight reasons that we ended up with Brexit. One was that decision by Labour. He writes
To his credit Jack does list among his eight reasons for Brexit the UK press, and suggests as I have done that the difference between the vote in England and Scotland owes something to the press being “far more rabid” in England. Our rabid right wing press were always going to weaponize EU immigration whenever it happened. Labour could only have delayed A8 immigration until 2011. That would still have given newspapers plenty of time to write negative stories about EU immigrants before the referendum in 2016, as they of course did in spades. As immigration from the EU between 2004 and 2011 is likely to have provided economic benefits for natives, it is not obvious that the 2004 decision was a mistake at all.