‘Exodus of the EU migrants’ said the front page of the Daily Express. ‘Brexodus’ exclaimed the Daily Star. BBC News led with: ‘Record numbers of EU nationals leaving the UK.’
As Julia Hartley-Brewer pointed out, the BBC headline was rich given the fact that the article quoted statistics for the period after the referendum showing that almost twice as many EU nationals came to live in the UK than left.
The newest net migration figures cover the year to September 2017, when there was a net inflow of EU nationals of 90,000. This was a drop of 75,000 on the year before – largely the result of about 40,000 fewer coming to look for work rather than take up a definite job.
Annual net EU migration of 90,000 is nearly double the scale of overall net migration to the UK from the entire world in 1997. The truth is that, in the past, the UK’s economy and society functioned well on much lower levels of immigration – annual average growth in GDP per capita was actually higher from 1992 to 2001 when net migration was lower .
Meanwhile other government statistics have revealed that nearly 500,000 National Insurance Numbers (NINos) were registered by EU nationals in 2017. Although this was a drop on the year, it still indicated a large number of EU nationals arriving since those who wish to work legally or claim benefits are required to attend a job centre in person to register for a NINo. A recent study by the job website ‘Indeed’ found that the UK remains the most popular country among Europeans looking to work abroad, see report.
Other recent ONS statistics showed that the stock of workers in the UK who were born in Western Europe reached its highest level ever in the last quarter of 2017 and that the number of workers from Romania and Bulgaria remains at near record levels. Over the year, the total stock of EU workers in the labour market increased by 80,000 to 2.39 million.
Furthermore, this week’s labour market statistics revealed the first rise in UK unemployment in two years (although productivity growth was at its strongest since 2008). So there remain over 1.4 million people unemployed in the UK to whom employers could turn to if they focused on improving pay and conditions and making jobs more attractive. There are also over a million people who are currently working part-time but would like more hours.
Untrammelled access to low paid EU workers may add to business profits but it is not necessarily good for those already here who would like to work more hours. The rest of society also has to cope with the consequences for pressure on housing, public services and the cost of in-work benefits.
Brexit is an opportunity to reduce the inflow of EU workers into lower-skilled jobs. This would be good for UK recruits and workers; it should help improve productivity and could even lead to a rise in wages for those earning the least.
When net arrivals from outside the EU are included, yesterday’s net migration figures showed that overall net migration remains at about a quarter of a million a year. As a result, the UK population is still soaring. Indeed, on present levels of net migration, the number of people resident in the UK will rise by the equivalent of the population of Birmingham – the UK’s second largest city – every two or three years. This at a time when England, if treated as a nation, is the third most densely populated country in the EU (behind only the Netherlands and Malta). It’s not surprising therefore that three-quarters of the public believe Britain to be already crowded.
The present scale of net migration is also worsening the housing crisis. At around the current level of net arrivals to England, one home will have to be built every five minutes until 2039 just to cope with the direct impact of additional demand for housing driven by immigration.
No wonder that, despite confusing headlines, public opinion remains solid: Nearly two thirds of the public want to see net migration cut by a considerable amount; the government’s net migration target is supported by the public; immigration remains one of the top three issues on which voters will base their vote at the next General Election.
Both major parties would do well to respect strong and longstanding public opinion on this matter which is so crucial to the future of our society.