David Cameron’s promise to slash migration levels was in ruins tonight after official figures revealed another sharp rise in new arrivals to Britain.
Net migration jumped to 243,000 in the year to March, a rise of 68,000 mainly driven by larger numbers of European Union nationals coming to the UK.
Mr Cameron and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, have set a target of reducing the figure to “tens of thousands” by next May’s general election and have refused to abandon it.
The latest rise sets the scene for the spotlight to be turned on immigration ahead of the general election.
A series of fresh Government measures limiting new arrivals’ access to public services come into effect in the autumn.
However, nearly two thirds of the increase (44,000) reported by the Office for National Statistics was accounted for by new EU arrivals, an influx over which ministers have little control.
An extra 16,000 Romanians and Bulgarians came to this country following the lifting in January of restrictions to the British labour market for the two countries and there were increases in workers from southern European states such as Italy and Portugal.
There was also a rise, from 246,000 to 265,000, in the total of non-EU citizens arriving in the UK.
Overall a total of 560,000 immigrants arrived over the period, a rise of 68,000, while an estimated 316,000 people left the country.
The ONS said the net migration figure represented a “statistically significant increase” from the net migration total of 175,000 the previous year.
The Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said: “Uncontrolled, mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on public services and forces down wages. That’s why our focus remains on controlling migration at sustainable levels.
“Our reforms have cut net migration by a quarter since the peak under the last Government - and have led to net migration from outside the EU falling to levels not seen since the 1990s.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “David Cameron promised "no ifs, no buts" that net migration would fall to the tens of thousands. Instead it has gone up by nearly 70,000 in the last year.
“This massive gap between Government rhetoric and the reality, as well as no serious action to tackle the root causes of anxiety about immigration, is destroying public trust and confidence.”
The IPPR think-tank challenged all political parties to put their emphasis on making immigration fairer rather than on cutting numbers.
Tim Finch, its associate director, said the UK was now in a “steady state” of net migration of more than 200,000 per year and pledges to reduce it below 100,000 in the next Parliament will not be meaningful.
Sunder Katwala, the director of think-tank British Future, said: “It’s little wonder public trust on immigration is so low when the Government is wedded to a target it clearly can’t meet. It’s impossible now to find anyone who thinks they can actually achieve it, in this parliament or the next.