WQCS Header Background Image
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.K.'s Relationship With EU In A Rough Patch

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the EU people can settle anywhere without a work visa or other special permission. That has become a source of tension between the EU and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Cameron wants to limit immigration in Europe. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from London.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Ilford is a sort of commuter town just east of London. The main street here has Polish markets next to Pakistani restaurants. Roxana Domco moved here from Romania five years ago with her husband and kids. She cleans houses and offices for a living.

ROXANA DOMCO: You can have a job in Romania, as well, but not like here. You know in Romania the salary is like 200 pounds per month. It's not like here, you can have 1,200 or something like that.

SHAPIRO: She said she never regrets the decision to move here. But when people ask where she's from, Domco admits she doesn't always tell the truth.

DOMCO: Seriously, sometimes I try to don't say I'm from Romania.

SHAPIRO: Really?

DOMCO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Explain why.

DOMCO: Because the people they don't like Romanian.

SHAPIRO: Just down the street, the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London helps immigrants with everything from housing to medical care. Rita Chadha is the chief executive here.

RITA CHADHA: When I first started this job in 2006, only about 20 percent of our work was with European nationals. Now, it's 50-50. So that's a significant development.

SHAPIRO: Britain's Office of National Statistics says half a million people arrived in the U.K. last year, half of them from other European countries. Chadha hears the political debate around European migration getting louder each day and echoing through the streets here in Ilford.

CHADHA: We have never seen so many hate crime cases against migrants as we were witnessing over this last year. So there's definitely a ratcheting up of tension, a real anxiety around communities that there is a foreigner amongst them and that they are the one who is the problem.

SHAPIRO: It's not hard to find that sentiment around here.

CHARLIE BOYLE: This country no longer has any control over the country.

SHAPIRO: Charlie Boyle is having a pint at the pub down the street called The General. He moved from Scotland to England in the early 1960s. English people harassed him as a new immigrant. But, he says, at least Scottish and English people are reasonably compatible. Today he rides the bus and can't even understand the languages.

BOYLE: If you were to take human beings and equate them with sheep or wolves, sheep are nice and easy going. Wolves are tougher, they're territorial and tribal. Well, human beings are more like wolves. They're territorial and tribal, and you just can't make laws to change that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Leaders committed a cardinal sin. Open the borders, let them all come in.

SHAPIRO: This satirical calypso song sings the praises of an anti-immigration political party called UKIP, The U.K. Independence Party. The singer withdrew it this week after people said the song was racist. UKIP was once a fringe party, but today it's having a major impact on mainstream politics. Prime Minister David Cameron even promises that if voters reelect his conservative party next year, he'll give them a referendum on whether to leave the EU. That has prompted a furious response from European leaders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSE MANUEL BARROSSO: The big question that U.K. needs to ask itself is this, are you sure you're better off outside than in?

SHAPIRO: Jose Manuel Barrosso spent 10 years as head of the European commission. One of his last acts before he stepped down this week was to give a speech in London warning the U.K. that it is treading a dangerous path.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARROSSO: It is only together that we have the weight to influence the big picture.

SHAPIRO: Prime Minister David Cameron did not exactly welcome Barrosso's message.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON: We need to address people's concerns about immigration. I'm very clear about who the boss is, about who I answer to, and it's the British people. They want this issue fixed. They're not being unreasonable about it, and I will fix it.

SHAPIRO: David Cameron is hoping to ride that promise to reelection next year. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.