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The Government's immigration target
08 May, 2018

would still be missed after Brexit

The Government always misses its target even when you take out EU migration. So why would Brexit mean the target would be met? London4Europe Committee member and former Home Office senior civil servant Michael Romberg looks at the numbers

The Conservatives’ target

The 2010 and 2015 Conservative manifesto promise was to reduce net migration to the "levels of the 1990s - tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands". The Conservatives repeated the idea but diluted the number in the 2017 manifesto: "It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands,..."

Leaving aside the two years when net migration was above 100,000, average net migration in the 1990s was 40,000 a year (details in the annex). But the 2017 manifesto target would be met at 90,000.

Performance against the target

The target has always been missed. To some extent it is unfair to include the substantial numbers of EU immigrants when assessing the Government’s performance. Freedom of movement means that EU migration is not under their control (though they could have restricted non-EU immigration to compensate).

So let’s look at how well they have met the target looking only at controllable immigration. As Figure 2 in the latest ONS Quarterly Report shows, over the last ten years non-EU immigration has almost always been bigger than EU immigration.

This is the series for the sum of two figures – net emigration of UK citizens who in all the years looked at left the UK in larger numbers than returned; and net immigration of non-EU citizens.

2010: 174,000

2011: 134,000

2012:  94,000

2013:   85,000

2014: 139,000

2015: 149,000

2016: 115,000

Source: ONS

Year ending 30 September 2017: 153,000

Source: ONS

So it not just that the overall numbers missed the target. The numbers for non-EU net migration missed the target even when reduced by the figures for the net emigration of British nationals.

In all these years, the number of visas issued to non-EU citizens was wholly under the UK’s control. In all these years Theresa May could have reduced controllable immigration to the 40,000 average level of the 1990s by restricting the number of visas. She did not do so.

It would be wrong to doubt Theresa May's personal commitment to reducing net immigration in line with the manifestos. But of course the rest of the cabinet, business, universities all see the benefits of immigration.

Why would any voter believe the Government will keep its immigration control promise in the event of Brexit?

In the year to September 2017, overall net migration was 244,000. Frankly, the gap between the actual and target figures is so big that it is hard to see how it can be achieved without doing real harm to the economy and society that we now have.

Might enough EU citizens leave/ not come?

The average net non-EU and British immigration figure above is 130,000.

In the year to September 2017 the net migration of EU citizens was 90,000 (gross in 220,000; gross out 130,000)

So if an additional 130,000 EU resident citizens had decided to leave then in an average year for other migration we would have had 90,000 net total migration. That additional 130,000 departures would be about 3½% of the 3.7 million EU citizens resident in the UK (source: ONS).

In 2016, Eurostat figures show that 1.3m EU citizens moved to an EU state other than the state of their own nationality.

The UK attracted roughly 19% of total such intra-EU movements of EU citizens. If that figure fell to 12% we would have 90,000 net overall migration.

It is not too hard to imagine a Brexit Britain that is unattractive to EU citizens: a more inward-looking Britain is less interesting; a sense that foreigners are not welcome; actual immigration and visa hassles; lower £; economic downturn. EU citizens of course have the whole of the EEA to choose from without immigration controls.

But Britain has an economy that is reliant on skilled and unskilled immigration. If EU citizens no longer come will we turn to non-EU immigrants instead? That after all is the plan of the Brexit elite, even if not of many of those who voted Leave.

So it is not hard to foresee a Brexit where there is a fall in EU immigration, if not in total immigration. But even Leavers would be hard pressed to like the reasons for it. And they might not like the consequences either.

Might enough British citizens leave?

It is a quirk of the target that the more UK nationals who leave, the better the Government does.

If Britons living abroad decide to return, the Government misses its target.

Does this make any sense?

Yes if the target is about absolute population numbers – but then why not target births and deaths?

No if the target is about how migration dilutes the Britishness of the resident population. In that case British migration should be in the target, but with the signs reversed.

But it seems that this target is not about anything. It is just a target for the sake of having a target, being seen to be doing something.





Figures (thousands) for overall (British, other EU, non-EU) net migration 1990s from ONS dataset long term international migration 2.00, Citizenship, UK

1990: 36

1991: 44

1992: minus 13

1993: minus 1

1994: 77

1995: 76

1996: 55

1997: 48

1998: 140

1999: 163

unweighted average of ten years: 62,500

unweighted average of ten years with 1998 and 1999 counted as 90,000 to be in line with government policy: 50,200

unweighted average of the eight years in the 1990s when net immigration was below 100,000: 40,250




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