We might have expected those calling for drastic reductions in net migration to welcome the recent fall in net migration, particularly given the prominence they have given to concerns about population growth in recent years. Instead MigrationWatch and Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green chose to focus on measure of gross immigration.
Those with an interest in migration have become used to the panic that surrounds the publication of population statistics in the UK. In recent years these have shown migration as a key driver of population growth. But new statistics published last week tell a different story. They show that although population in the UK increased by more than 400,000 in 2008, this was largely due to increases in the birth rate. Indeed, net migration in 2008 was down 44% to 118,000 from a peak of well over 200,000 in 2005-06.
We might have expected those calling for drastic reductions in net migration to welcome this fall in net migration, particularly given the prominence they have given to concerns about population growth in recent years. But they did not. Faced with big falls in net migration, MigrationWatch chose to focus on gross immigration (which has remained steady, since the decline in net migration is due to a rise in emigration). Sir Andrew Green said:
“It is the usual government spin to claim these numbers as a success for immigration policy despite the fact that foreign immigration is virtually unchanged at about half a million a year.”
The Government was too quick to claim credit for the fall in net migration (though some credit was due), but Sir Andrew’s focus on gross immigration also suggests that MigrationWatch may be concerned not with how many people there are in the UK, but with how many foreigners there are in the UK. The Government was not alone in seeking to make political hay from the statistics last week. Shadow Immigration Minister Damian Green took the opportunity to imply a link between UK unemployment and migration (a link not supported by evidence), and also focused on gross immigration flows:
“At a time of rising unemployment the numbers of new people coming here to work are 34 per cent higher than at the height of the boom 10 years ago.”
There are legitimate debates to be had about migration, including its impact on community cohesion and the labour market. Let’s hope that these latest statistics will bring an end the tendency to dress up other concerns (or old-fashioned political point scoring) as concerns about UK population levels.
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