Leading article: Don't mourn the new British diaspora

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The Independent Online

Our political discourse tends to focus so relentlessly on the question of how many people are coming into our country that the other side of the migration equation is often overlooked. So just how many people are leaving Britain each year? The answer is more than ever before. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics reveal that some 360,000 Britons emigrated last year. This is a substantial rise on the 236,000 leaving 10 years ago.

There is, of course, no single reason why so many people are choosing to leave Britain. As we show today, many emigrate to Australia for what they think will be a higher quality of life. Some, academics in particular, are moving to America to take advantage of higher salaries and greater professional opportunities. An increasing number of couples are cashing in on high property prices in the UK to buy retirement homes in Europe.

None of this need be a cause for concern. There is no shortage of skilled, enthusiastic immigrants ready to take the place of those leaving. For every jaded Briton hoping to start a new life Down Under there is a Polish plumber coming over to repair our leaky pipes. The time to worry will be when the British population starts to decline as a result of emigration.

Britain has a strong tradition of emigration. From the earliest days of empire, people have journeyed abroad to seek their fortune or to practice their religion in peace. In the 19th century it was actively promoted by the governments of the day. So from this perspective, what we are witnessing today is nothing new.

Yet there is an added significance to these latest figures. They reflect the fact that, even in the past half decade, travel has become cheaper and communications swifter. Technological globalisation has made people more likely to leave their home country to work abroad. Since the world feels smaller than in the past, leaving home has become less of a strain. And notwithstanding the obsessions of Little Englanders, there has also been something of a globalisation in outlook. Britons today, particularly the young, feel less inhibited about living and working abroad. They are also more open to other cultures.

This trend is likely to continue. We suspect that in coming years the imbalance between news stories about immigration and emigration will be redressed.