The Home Office is privately examining the possible impact of restrictions being lifted on Romanians and Bulgarians who want to live and work in Britain.
The Government privately acknowledges that the issue is politically toxic for the Coalition, pointing to signs that the UK Independence Party is seeking to exploit the subject by linking immigration to the European Union. Only limited numbers of people from either country are likely to travel to Britain next year when restrictions on the freedom of movement of citizens of the two newest EU member states are scrapped, senior government sources believe.
But the subject is preoccupying Whitehall, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has commissioned private research on the likely demands on public services from newcomers.
Although the FCO has taken the lead on the issue, the Home Office has also been conducting internal talks on the potential effect of ending the restrictions next January. One of the issues on the agenda is whether Roma families could attempt to escape poverty and discrimination in Romania by heading to the UK.