Not that I want to make true Brexiteers hyperventilate or anything, but the much-cited figure of a record half a million people joining the UK population in the last year is only about half the truth.
That’s because it’s just the net number. A total of 1.1 million people are expected to have turned up in the UK by June. More than a million! These are the people I think the anti-immigration people should focus on.
They are all legal and the majority – 704,000 – are from outside the EU. The number of ‘legal’ migrants is about 10 times higher than the number crossing the English Channel in small boats or smuggled in trucks – which has sparked controversy. Instead of talking about it, Brexiteers usually ignore legal migration numbers. However, not now.
So what you might have expected from Brexit, and for which many no doubt voted, has not happened. On the other hand. Instead of migration, say, at the “tens of thousands” a year promised by the Conservatives after they first entered government in 2010, it’s at five times that level. This is because UK businesses and universities cannot function properly without migration.
We simply have too few people and too many jobs that cannot be replaced by machines or AI. Birth rate surges aside, this is the economic fact of life. We shouldn’t get upset about it because it has made us richer, just like other great nations built on migration, like the US and Australia.
Last year was an unusual year, but smoothing over the past few years leaves a perfectly legal and orderly net inflow of 200,000 to 250,000 per year. This is high by most historical UK standards and contributes to the increasing proportion of the population who were not born in the UK.
Given that recent emigration has been affected by the return of EU citizens and most of this trend has yet to be spent, net emigration figures are likely to fall quite sharply in 2023 and beyond. An estimated 560,000 people have immigrated from the UK over the same period, of whom almost half – 275,000 – have returned to the EU. The average net migration could well rise even higher, if not to half a million.
This is because there are some skewing effects on the numbers brought on by the end of the pandemic, such as a backlog in student arrivals and recent special rules for Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine inflating the stats – roughly 200,000 Ukrainians fled the war and were mostly welcomed in Britain.
The fact is that our new post-Brexit ‘Australian points system’ has not reduced migration as promised, but merely changed its composition, from EU workers to non-EU workers and students. There is nothing inherent in a points-based system that will virtually stop migration, as has been suggested by the likes of Nigel Farage.
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And that has come true – another false promise, albeit with a golden fringe, that net migration will help fill gaps in the labor market for both skilled and unskilled workers. Instead of fruit pickers from Romania, for example, they are now being flown in from Indonesia, to give an extreme example. Did people vote for it in 2016? Or would you prefer not to let the fruit rot in the fields now?
The other irony of the promised boost Brexit should deliver is that the only thing that will fuel economic growth for years to come is migration – which helps deliver an extra £6billion a year in tax revenue. Without migrants, from whatever source and whatever their motivation, the UK would face an even worse recession and deeper cuts in its public services over the next decade.
If Britain were ever to simply drop its refugee-taking obligations and limit visa issuance to, say, 100,000 regardless of other considerations, the country would be poorer as a result.
The Brexit experiment is failing even in its simplest and most crucial aspects. It can only be made to work by further crippling the economy. That should piss people off, not migration numbers.