The Brexit debate is descending into the technicalities of trade deals. together with a burst of special pleading by employers who have long benefitted from an unlimited supply of cheap labour. Yet there are much wider issues. They are not only about our independence as a country, but also about the whole scale and nature of our society.
The EU have been clear that continued membership of the single market will require acceptance of the principle of free movement of people. Research that we have published today shows that this option would mean that mass immigration would continue indefinitely – precisely what so many voters are strongly opposed to.
We have examined the factors that currently drive EU migration – notably the very large disparity in wages between the UK and Eastern Europe, and the massive youth unemployment in Southern Europe. We have found little to indicate that any material change is in prospect. We therefore believe that net migration from the EU – currently running at 190,000 a year – is unlikely to fall below 155,000 in the medium to long term for as long as free movement continues.
Even if non-EU migration were to fall from its present 196,000 to 150,000, net foreign migration would still be 305,000 a year. Allowing 55,000 for the net emigration of British citizens would imply that net migration would continue at about 250,000 a year well into the future.
The implications of this are enormous. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) projects that, if net migration were to continue at 265,000 a year (their high migration scenario), the UK population would grow by 12.2 million by 2039, or by around half a million a year. Of this, 75 per cent would be due to future migrants and their children, and 90 per cent of the growth will occur in England. To house such a population, we would have to build the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham every two years over this period. Put another way, this is the equivalent of adding the entire current populations of Bulgaria and New Zealand over 25 years.
The issue is not only one of numbers. Louise Casey’s recent report has highlighted the difficulties of integrating a wide range of cultures. Indeed, the foreign-born population of the UK more than doubled in twenty years from 4.1 million in 1995 to 8.4 million in 2015. Now one in four children born in England and Wales is to a foreign born mother. In London, that percentage is 58 per cent.
Meanwhile, the housing crisis, already severe, can be expected to impact on communities all over the country – indeed, we would need to build a new home every four or five minutes, night and day, just to house future migrants and their families. This is not to speak of the additional infrastructure that will be needed at a time when the government is seeking to close the budget deficit. An already grid-locked South East will become even more choked with people.
Yet, even now, it seems that elite opinion has still not woken up to the enormity of what all this means for our country as a whole.
The well-off inhabitants of Islington, whose properties have shot up in value, who have easy access to cheap nannies and who can afford private health insurance, might well look on complacently.
But those large numbers who voted for Brexit did so for good reasons. Indeed, the public, as so often, are ahead of the game, and have long been opposed to immigration on anything like this scale. Even among those who voted to remain in the EU, a majority wish to see immigration reduced. They understand only too well, and from their own experience, that rapid population growth means greater competition for social housing, the disappointment of failing to get places for their children in local schools, and even longer waits in their GP surgeries.
So, as the triggering of the negotiations approaches, the public deserve the truth – namely, that membership of the Single Market would inevitably result in mass immigration for the foreseeable future.