EU net migration hits four-year low in wake of Brexit, figures show

Number of EU citizens coming to UK ‘looking for work’ continues to decrease

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Monday 16 July 2018 15:01
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Immigration after Brexit: What's it going to look like?

EU net migration has hit a four-year low as more European citizens leave the UK and fewer arrive in the wake of the vote for Brexit, new statistics show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said estimated net long-term migration to the UK from the EU was 101,000 in 2017, which is the lowest level since the year ending March 2013.

EU net migration has continued to add to the UK population, with about 101,000 more EU citizens coming to the UK than leaving, the figures show.

But the estimated number of EU citizens coming to Britain “looking for work” continued to decrease over the last year and the number coming for a definite job has remained stable.

The figures show that non-EU net migration was twice the level of EU net migration, at more than 227,000 – the highest level since September 2010.

In response to the figures, Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: “As this data shows, the government’s net migration target is utterly misconceived.

“It has never been met and the government’s most recent efforts to meet it led to the Windrush scandal and deporting our own citizens.

“Like the ‘hostile environment’, it’s clear to almost everyone except Theresa May that the net migration target should go.”

It comes after it emerged the ongoing fall in immigration since Brexit was already costing the UK more than £1bn a year, according to new analysis by independent think tank Global Future.

The number of European citizens arriving has plummeted since the EU referendum, while the number of people from outside the bloc has increased.

Peter Starkings, Global Future director, said a continued fall in net migration would be damaging for the UK.

“It’s good news that the government is nowhere near hitting its self-defeating net migration target,” he said. “Based on today’s figures, cutting net migration to the tens of thousands in the next 12 months would cost the UK £2.7bn in one year alone.

“If the government really believe their target is in the interests of the UK, they need to explain how they will replace that income, or where they will make cuts to the NHS and other public services or increase borrowing.

“It is time ministers accept that immigration is good for the UK, that central planning doesn’t work, and that their own target cannot be hit, has driven bad policy and must go.”

Axel Antoni, spokesperson for the3million, told The Independent the decline showed that EU nationals felt less welcome and less secure about their status in the UK, describing it as a "Brexodus"

“EU emigration is at its highest since records began. People are leaving. They are having to make new lives, give up what they’ve established,” he said.

“It’s all Brexit related. People don’t feel as welcome anymore. They feel uncertainty about their status. As long as people talk about no deal we don’t know what’s happening.

“The government has not done enough to provide certainty to people and that is coupled with a general thinking that economically they might be better off outside the country, even though many have been here for decades.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “The data suggest that the UK is still an attractive country, but its allure for EU migrants has declined considerably over the past couple of years.

“Factors like the lower value of the pound and uncertainty about the implications of Brexit may well have contributed.

“But it’s not all about Brexit: EU net migration was unusually high just before the referendum, and it’s likely that some of the decline would have happened anyway even if the UK had not voted to leave.”

It comes as Global Future, a think tank that promotes the benefits of openness, said on Sunday that meeting the government’s immigration target of “tens of thousands” would also cost Britain £12bn a year by 2023.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said: “What these statistics show is that more of the people who are coming to the UK are coming for the reasons we would want – to take up a definite job or to study.

“More EU nationals continue to arrive than leave and as the ONS have made clear, net migration has been broadly stable since late 2016. But while it is not unusual to see quarterly ups and downs, we know more needs to be done if we are to bring net migration down to sustainable levels.

“That is why we continue to review our visa routes to ensure our priority remains with those who will make a real economic contribution to the UK or who need our protection.

“And leaving the EU will enable us to put in place an immigration system which works for everyone – businesses, communities, families and individuals.”

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