Brexit campaigners have jumped on the migration numbers, but fail to put them in context
Net migration to the UK in the year ending December 2015 was 333,000, a statistically insignificant increase of 20,000 on 2014, according to the final set of ONS quarterly migration statistics to be released before the referendum.
Net migration of EU citizens was 184,000, another slight increase on 2014. However, while the net figures are increasing, the ONS attributes that largely to falling emigration — a positive indicator for the UK economy.
Already, Leave campaigners are using the figures to support their arguments.
Nigel Farage describes mass immigration as ‘hopelessly out of control’ and warns that it will get worse if Britain remains in the EU.
Boris Johnson told Sky News:
‘I am in favour of immigration, I am in favour of the benefits it brings to our society, but I have to say that what is happening at the moment is being done completely without the consent of the British people.’
Johnson points to the fact that people voted for the Conservative manifesto promise of reducing manifesto promises to the tens of thousands, a target that has been criticised by experts as arbitrary and fundamentally unworkable.
Indeed, many Remain supporters believe that the government has offered an open goal to the Leave campaign by sticking to migration targets that cannot be achieved in the context of EU membership.
Importantly, experts also agree that this target should be abandoned, as reducing migration by over 50 per cent would create major fiscal pressures, likely forcing labour tax increases and creating staff shortages in low-skilled and social care sectors.
Additionally, the Leave campaign has failed to explain how it can both realise its migration targets and safeguard the economy, since preferential trade agreements within Europe are premised on free movement between states.
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