Comment: The government must start telling the truth about migration

Maintaining the pretence that the government is able to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands is dishonest


The Spending Review and vote on Syria have blown the quarterly migration statistics off the front pages of most media outlets.

But it is inevitable that later today, the migration statistics will be spun and sensationalised in the press, used as evidence that the government’s policy is failing and that the numbers of people coming to the UK is increasing. But scrutiny of the statistics tells a more interesting story.

The Conservatives went into the 2010 election with the pledge to reduce net migration – immigration minus emigration – to the tens of thousands by 2015 election.  It failed on this aim – spectacularly – but the government has continued to keep the pledge as a policy objective.

Today’s statistics show that an estimated 636,000 people migrated to the UK in the 12 months to June 2015, while 300,000 people left, leaving a net inflow of 336,000, the same level as in March 2015, but some 236,000 people above the government’s net migration target.

But a deeper delve into the statistics tells a different story. Migration from the EU has fallen, including migration from the EU’s newest member states (73,000 migrant in the year to June 2015, compared with 81,000 in the year to March 2015).

Levels of non-EU migration are also lower than they were at the beginning of the last parliament and under Labour, although a little higher than at the same time last year.  

Home Office administrative statistics also released today confirms these trends. The numbers of student visas issued has fallen by 5.9 per cent in the quarter to September 2015, compared with the previous year, while the number of family and work visas issued has remained constant.

What has changed is that fewer migrants are leaving the UK – just 300,000 people left the UK as emigrants in the year to June 2015, compared with 321,000 in the year to June 2014. Levels of emigration are at a record low. This means that even if immigration falls, net migration will remain high because fewer people are leaving.

This fact highlights the nonsensical nature of the government’s net migration target. Some 13.4 per cent of immigrants in coming to the UK were returning UK nationals and a further 41.7 per cent were other EU nationals, two groups whose entry the government has little ability to control. Net migration targets have been further derailed by fewer migrants leaving.  

Maintaining the pretence that the government is able to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands is dishonest. It reduces public trust in the ability of politicians to manage migration. At a time when there is a growing exodus of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, it is essential that politicians are open and candid about what they can and cannot do.

Abandoning the net migration target would be the most truthful option. We need an open and evidenced debate, not lies and deceit.

Jill Rutter is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.