Oh dear, getting Brexit done has actually driven immigration numbers up – is this what you promised, prime minister?

The prime minister’s hope is that, if the points-based system for non-EU citizens is extended to include EU nationals, there will be greater control – but the data suggests the opposite is true

Thom Brooks
Monday 28 December 2020 11:25
<p>We are experiencing a four-year high of migration from non-EU countries, where the UK has supposedly tighter controls</p>

We are experiencing a four-year high of migration from non-EU countries, where the UK has supposedly tighter controls

Boris Johnson promised the public that voting for Brexit and supporting the Tories in the last general election, in order to “get Brexit done”, would lead to a significant reduction in immigration

However, the facts tell a very different story. In the final set of immigration figures we’ll see before leaving the EU, the UK’s new net migration statistics show it has gone up to 313,000 over the past year to March. This is a rise of about 42% from 221,000 a year ago. The rise was fuelled by the 715,000 people who came to the UK over the previous 12 months. This is a four-year high of migration from non-EU countries, where the UK has tighter controls – controls that will soon be extended to EU citizens. Getting Brexit done has not seen immigration go down; it has driven it up.

A key claim by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been that leaving the EU was essential to better control EU migration. The argument was that freedom of movement restricted the UK’s ability to control its borders. Yet, as we can see, the data doesn’t back this up.

What should especially concern the government is that it has modelled its post-Brexit migration policies on how it manages non-EU citizens. There is already a points-based system in place since 2008, although it is currently used only for non-EU migrants. The prime minister’s idea is that, if this points-based system was extended to include EU nationals, there would be greater control on numbers and they would definitely go down. Or so he keeps saying.

However, we can see the opposite is actually happening. EU migration is going down (which Johnson claims is out of control), while non-EU migration continues to go up (which he claims is fully under control). The obvious conclusion we can draw is that, despite repeated promises to the contrary, regulating EU nationals like non-EU citizens broadly under the current points-based system may easily lead to net migration rises in future.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the tier 2 worker visas – at the heart of the current and future points-based systems – have “previously been at the highest level on record”. The points-based system doesn’t do what the public has been promised.

To be fair, there have been significant reductions across all varieties of migration since March, from investors to asylum. But according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the main cause is Covid and not Brexit – nor government migration policy. The ONS is quick to point out that travel restrictions related to the pandemic are what cut migration. We can expect levels to rise again as lockdown measures are relaxed.

I am a non-EU migrant. I accept the evidence that migrants bring more benefits than costs. My main concern over the latest statistics is about the impact these figures will have on public trust. Promises won’t be kept and should not have been made.

Many citizens voted for Brexit and for Johnson’s government. They will have expectations fuelled by the campaign promises made by the prime minister, claims repeated since 2016. And not to mention promises of passing a withdrawal agreement and Northern Ireland protocol that Johnson only now says was, at least partly, a mistake.

At a time where we need to come together more than ever – and where trust is important, as many expect further waves of Covid outbreaks – this could not be more dangerous.  

But a government that sees politics as only a power game in furthering the interests of a few loyalists over the public good will make disastrous decisions like this. You can see it in how – unbelievably – individuals who have passed the citizenship test, met all criteria and paid their fees, earning the Home Office up to 900 per cent profit, have had their citizenship cancelled for no other reason than that Covid prevented citizenship ceremonies from happening.

A government that cares for needless paperwork and treats every migrant like a walking piggy bank fails to honour our shared British values of equality and fair play – hardly the welcome new British citizens deserve.

It is not too late to change course, but perhaps only if there’s a change at the top. Johnson is clearly a prime minister who has made promises he cannot keep and had no intention of keeping. Immigration is a prime example, although by no means the only one. No wonder he’s already reportedly thinking about bailing out early. As his broken promises add up, I doubt the public will miss him.

Thom Brooks is professor of law and government at Durham University and author of ‘Becoming British’.

This article was amended on 26 August 2021, to change the description of the rise in immigration from ‘about one third’ to ‘about 42%’.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in