By Sir Andrew Green
Chairman of Migration Watch UK
The Guardian, London, 23 October, 2009
This is not just a 'tabloid issue'. We must tackle immigration's effect on our population, or risk leaving the field to extremists
Tim Finch is worried that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) population projections published on 21 October will, as he put it, play into tabloid hands. He is right to point out these projections are not forecasts. But what they do show very clearly is that, unless there are major changes in economic circumstances or government policy, the population of the UK will hit 70 million in 20 years' time. Nearly 70% of that increase will be due to future immigration.
It is important to realise that these projections are not just a continuation of past trends. Net immigration quadrupled between 1997 and 2007. Continuing that trend would result in astronomical figures. Instead, the ONS has assumed a 25% drop from the 237,000 per year experienced in 2007 to 180,000. It has assumed that this level will continue into the future. This assumption already takes account of the expected fall in net immigration in 2008 due to a large number of east Europeans returning home. Indeed, the projections further assume that net immigration from eastern Europe will decline to zero over the next five years. As for the effect of recession, Migrationwatch research has shown that, in the last three recessions, there was only a temporary fall in immigration followed by a resumed upward trend.
It is fair to say that the ONS makes a serious and detailed effort to reach the most plausible assumptions possible, as explained in a further Migrationwatch paper. In 2007 the ONS published a study of the accuracy of its population projections over the past 50 years. At the 20-year range the average margin of error was about 2.5%.
Another important feature of these projections is that they illustrate what must be done if we wish to moderate the increase in our population. They show, for example, that if we want to stabilise our population at 65 million we need to reduce net immigration to zero. That does not mean no immigration at all. It means that immigration should be reduced to the level of emigration, which is currently about 100,000 a year.
So what about government policy, the other big variable? Will recent changes limit the growth in our population? We have not yet had a full year of the much-vaunted points-based system, but the government's own assessment is that, had it been in operation last year, it would have reduced immigration by about 20,000. That leaves another 160,000 to go. There is no sign of policies that would achieve that, but perhaps these population projections will help generate the political will necessary to bring immigration under control.
Let us be clear. This is not just a "tabloid issue". Eighty-four per cent of the public are worried about our population reaching 70 million including, incidentally, two-thirds of the ethnic minority community. Seventy-one per cent want to see net immigration reduced to 50,000 or less. None of the three main parties allowed the word "immigration" to appear on the agenda of their recent party conferences. If they continue to duck the issue, they will leave the field wide open to extremists and have only themselves to blame.