Clegg warns against EU migration 'guesstimates'
Nick Clegg has refused to reveal estimates of the number of Romanians and Bulgarians expected to come to the UK when restrictions on their right to work are lifted next year.
The deputy PM said the figures were not "precise", more like "guesstimates".
Making them public would not help "public confidence in the immigration system", he told LBC Radio.
Ministers were contradicting themselves and were "in a hopeless mess" over the issue, Labour's Chris Bryant said.
People from Romania and Bulgaria have been free to live in the UK and anywhere else in the EU since 2007, but in the UK have either had to apply for one of the limited work permits available, been self-employed or worked in a specific list of jobs such as seasonal agricultural ones and domestic servants.
According to the ONS, in July 2012 there were 94,000 people who were born in Romania and 47,000 people who were born in Bulgaria resident in the UK.
Ministers say that the impact of the transitional controls, and the fact that eight other EU countries will see those restrictions end at the same time as the UK at the end of 2013, make forecasts difficult.
Speaking on his weekly LBC phone-in show, Mr Clegg said the government had "estimates, but they are estimates", adding, when asked to reveal them: "I don't think it helps public confidence in the immigration system."
He said: "I don't think we as a government should start bandying around estimates, estimates which at the moment aren't very precise."
'Publish impact assessment'
The then Labour government used a prediction of 13,000 arrivals when Poland and other countries joined the European Union in 2004 - a figure which was exceeded many times over.
Asked whether the current estimate was more than 13,000 he replied: "I can't give you clues... you are inviting me to get into a sort of guessing game about an estimate."
The deputy prime minister added that Labour's incorrect prediction had "undermined much of the fabric of public support for immigration" and caused "the loss of confidence" in it.
He added that "one of the reasons that happened" was because Labour "were bandying around guesstimates".
Migration Watch, which supports tighter immigration controls, has recently predicted that 50,000 Bulgarians and Romanians will come to the UK every year when the restrictions are lifted.
It analysed migration from other European countries and the number of Bulgarians and Romanians already in the UK before making its estimates.
Home Secretary Theresa May said in November that temporary curbs could not continue under EU law and the government was looking instead at limiting access to benefits and the NHS to reduce the "pull factors" that encouraged migrants to come to the UK.
A spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said later that Mr Clegg had been referring to the estimates around from groups such as Migration Watch "which he has seen but which he does not think are robust".
"The government does not have forecast figures or estimates on the number of migrants that could arrive from Romania and Bulgaria.
"The point the DPM was making is that it is not credible to accurately forecast likely inflows from Romania and Bulgaria once restrictions are lifted, which is why he described figures being bandied about as guesstimates.
"It would be damaging to public confidence in the immigration system to bandy around guesstimates which go on to prove to be inaccurate."
For Labour, shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said: "They should trust the public's common sense and publish the impact assessment immediately so that we can all decide for ourselves whether the plans in place are adequate.
"People are sick of governments making promises and politicians spouting warm words about immigration but doing nothing."