The population increased by a record 222,600 in 2004, 71,000 more than the previous year's rise. The figure was pushed up by the arrival of 48,000 citizens from new EU member countries, including Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.
Ministers faced accusations last night that the increases proved immigration was out of control but the Home Office argued that the influx reflected Britain's economic strength and would boost public services.
However, the rises took Government statisticians by surprise, forcing them to revise their forecasts for the size of the population. They now calculate the UK population at the end of last year to be 59,835,000 and believe it passed the 60 million mark this year. They estimate it will grow to 61.9 million in 2011, 64.7 million in 2021 and 67 million in 2031 and will carry on rising until 2074.
The increases, put down to to increasing birth rates and greater life expectancy as well as immigration, will put fresh pressure on housing, transport links and public services, particularly in London and the South-east, where much of the growth is expected to take place.
In 2004, 582,000 people settled in the UK, yet 359,400 left, the Government's National Statistics agency said yesterday.
The numbers of workers arriving from former Iron Curtain countries have proved higher than original forecasts but the Home Office argues that most are temporary migrants who will eventually return home. Although east Europeans accounted for the most dramatic rise in immigration, there were also increases from other parts of the European Union, from the "'Old Commonwealth" - Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa - and from other Commonwealth countries.
Humfrey Malins, a Tory home affairs spokesman, said: "This is an indictment of the absolute shambles that is the immigration system under Labour.
"This completely undermines Tony Blair's claim that Britain would have 'firm control over immigration'. In fact, net immigration levels are now five times what they were when Labour took power."
Migrationwatch, the right-wing think-tank, claimed foreign immigration each year was equivalent to the population of the city of Leicester.
"These are staggering figures that totally demolish the Government's claim it has a managed migration policy. They show immigration into the UK is out of control," a spokesman said.
But a Home Office spokeswoman said: "New immigrants bring considerable benefit to the UK - whether contributing to our wealth, our culture or our diversity." He said: "It's important to recognise that migrant workers contribute to the economy and provide a greater pool of workers with valuable skills. That means potentially more nurses, teachers, bricklayers, builders and other who benefit the UK."
Danny Sriskandarajah, of the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, said: "These figures indicate a healthy economy rather than a system out of control. We need to move beyond scaremongering about numbers and find ways of optimising the benefits of migration and welcoming those people who choose to come and work in the UK."
The UK's population has grown by almost 10 million since 1951, when it stood at 50.2 million. Most of the increase over that period is attributable to natural growth but, since the mid-1990s, immigration has been an increasingly important factor.
Not all parts of the UK have seen equal growth, though, with the population increasing most rapidly in the South-east of England. Years of decline in London have reversed, mainly due to immigration. Meanwhile the populations of the North-west and North-east have fallen slightly.
Scotland has had a declining population for decades, falling from 5.24 million 30 years ago to 5.07 million last year. It appears to have bottomed out.
The Welsh population is projected to rise slightly from 2.92 million to just over 3 million in 2011. Northern Ireland's population will increase from 1.71 million to 1.77 million in the same period.
In the 2001 census, 91.3% of people described themselves as white, 4.4% Asian, 2.2% black, 1.3% mixed, 0.4% Chinese and 0.4% other.
More than 200,000 Britons leave for sunnier climes
The television dream of a "place in the sun" is becoming a reality for growing numbers of Britons, with 208,000 leaving this country for warmer climes last year.
Australia remained the favourite destination but there were also sharp increases in emigration to the Mediterranean.
About 59,000 headed for the Antipodes, with 42,000 settling in Australia and 17,000 in New Zealand. Some 17,000 moved to the United States, many for work reasons. However, the number of families choosing the US for a new life appears to have dropped since 11 September, 2001.
More than 30,000 packed their bags and moved to Spain, which is fast growing in popularity among expatriates, while 17,000 chose France. Italy and Portugal are also favoured destinations but Germany has dropped in popularity.
The figure of 208,000 shows a marked rise from the year before, when the net figure was 190,000. Plans to start afresh overseas appear to have ended in disappointment for many families. A total of 88,000 Britons returned to these shores from foreign sojourns last year.Reuse content