The New Year’s Eve celebrations clearly didn’t last long for Keith Vaz.
The Leicester East MP was up early on New Year’s Day at Luton Airport to greet the first wave of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants travelling to the UK after restrictions on their movement were lifted on 1 January.
There have been widespread fears that the influx of Eastern European workers would swamp public services in Britain.
Mr Vaz, chairman of the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee, had pledged to see for himself the size of the “influx” that many have spoken about for weeks.
Mr Vaz shared a coffee with a couple of the first arrivals including one man who had come to the UK to work at a car wash in London so he can send money back home to his family in a village in the historic region of Transylvania.
The 30-year-old, who said he earned 10 euros a day working in construction at home, said he hoped to make 10 euros an hour here.
He also pledged to return to Romania after a few years of saving up.
Not all arrivals were looking to do menial jobs and claim benefits as many have feared.
One man was a paramedic who had already lined up a job at a hospital in London. After giving the Romanian workers a warm welcome, Mr Vaz said there should be a referendum on how many EU migrants should be allowed to come to the UK.
He said that the issue had become a ‘drama’. ‘This is an issue that does need to be put to the British people, so we don’t get this kind of drama and people rushing around thinking hundreds of thousands of people are going to arrive at Luton on the first day,’ he told Sky News.
‘We do need to look at this sensibly. It needs to be part of negotiations for a reformed EU, because freedom of movement is very important.
‘It’s one of the cornerstones of the EU and we need to have a proper discussion, and that means at the end of the day the British people have to make that decision.’
The Labour MP added: ‘There are already 141,000 Romanians and Bulgarians living in the UK. ‘The concern of the committee has always been the lack of robust estimates of people coming here and we still feel very strongly the Government ought to have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to have conducted a piece of research which would have told us the number of people who were came into this country or were coming into this country.
‘We think that would have been extremely helpful. The fact that we don’t have those estimates means that we have this kind of drama at the end, which is not helpful to anybody.’
Several politicians and segments of the conservative press have warned that the new arrivals will be a severe strain on public services.
Many fear that most of the new arrivals are here purely to exploit Britain’s generous benefits system.
But a number of studies – including one commissioned by the government and which was later withdrawn – have suggested that the possible cost to the treasury in benefit payments will be negligible compared to the economic benefits of migration.