EU referendum: Net migration to UK rises to 333,000, new figures reveal

The Office for National Statistics data is likely to spark fierce debate among Brexit campaigners

Oliver Wright
Political Editor
Thursday 26 May 2016 09:46
Who came to the UK in 2015 - Migration statistics revealed

Brexit backers have seized on new figures showing a rise in immigration as proof the UK can only control its borders by quitting the EU.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics showed net migration into Britain rose to 333,000 last year – up 20,000 on 2014.

Of these 308,000 people came intending to work, an increase of 30,000 from the previous year and the highest estimate on record. Just under 60 per cent had a definite job to go but 42 per cent arrived looking for work – a statistically significant increase from 104,000 the previous year.

Boris Johnson claimed the figures showed Britain would be “kissing goodbye” to any hope of reducing migrant numbers unless it broke free of Brussels. “We are adding a population the size of Oxford to the UK every year just from EU migration,” he said after the publication of the data.

“The system has spun out of control. We cannot control the numbers. We cannot control the terms on which people come and how we remove those who abuse our hospitality.

”This puts huge pressure on schools, hospitals and housing. It is exploited by some big companies that use immigration to keep wages down.”

Ukip leader Nigel Farage added: “Mass immigration is still hopelessly out of control and set to get worse if we remain inside the EU, going on with disastrous open borders.”

However, immigration minister James Brokenshire warned quitting the EU would not provide the "silver bullet" Leave campaigners claimed.

"Net migration from outside of the EU and within the EU remains too high,” he said.

“However, we remain committed to reforms across the whole of government to bring migration down to sustainable levels, which is in the best interest of our country. Leaving the EU is absolutely no panacea or silver bullet, whatever some may suggest,” he said.

London Mayor and Remain campaigner Sadiq Khan said people had legitimate concerns about immigration. “You can either try to address people's fears, or play on them. I believe in addressing them," he said. "You've got to hear what people are saying, they are legitimate concerns people have.”

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Of course people rightly have concerns on immigration but the PM's view is very clearly that wrecking the economy and destroying jobs by getting rid of our privileged access to the world's biggest market is not the answer.

"And we don't know what would happen to migration if we were to leave the EU. Those who want to leave are telling one group of people that they will cut migration, while telling other groups that they will keep freedom of movement or increase visas."

A record number of deportations "is a sign of having control of our borders", he said.

The ONS said the small rise in net migration – the difference between the number of people leaving Britain and the numbers of people coming in – was not statistically significant.

But the statistics watchdog also released figures showing that in 2014, 13 per cent, or 8.3 million, of the UK resident population were born outside the UK. This has risen from 9 per cent, or 5.3 million, in 2004.

The figures also showed a big rise in short-term migration – of people coming to live in the UK for less than a year. In the year to June 2014 there were 165,000 short-term immigrants, compared with 122,000 in the year to June 2013.

Latest employment statistics from the Labour Force Survey show the estimated employment level of EU nationals (excluding British) living in the UK was 2.1 million in January to March 2016 – 224,000 higher than the same quarter last year.

The UKIP MEP Stephen Woolfe described the figures as “staggering”. ”Britain is borderless as a member of the EU,” he said. “The sheer scale of immigration is putting our public services under severe strain and causing division and disharmony in our communities.

“We need a migration policy fit for 21st century Britain – which satisfies the needs of our economy and our society. Unless we vote to leave the EU we will continue to have our hands tied and have no control over who comes and who goes at our ports.”

British nationals in employment increased by 185,000 to 28.2 million and non-EU nationals in employment increased by 5,000 to 1.2 million. Over half of the growth in employment over the last year was accounted for by foreign nationals.

Glen Watson, Deputy National Statistician for Population and Public Policy, said today’s figures on net long-term migration were “not very different to those published last quarter”.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments