Nicholas Soames is MP for Mid Sussex and Co-Chairman of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration.
Graphs are usually not that exciting or compelling. This one is different. It clearly shows something that very few people realise: our population is on track to grow from 61 million to 70 million in the next 20 years, and 80 million in mid-century.
This is the backdrop to the debate about immigration. Make no mistake: I believe that immigration has benefited our country in numerous ways. But what we have seen in the last decade is uncontrolled, large scale and unprecedented levels of immigration. For example, East African Asians admitted in the mid-1970s amounted to 27,000 spread over two years. Net foreign immigration is now that number every month; in 2007 it reached one third of a million.
High levels of immigration are expected to continue. The Government’s
own forecast assumes that net immigration – the number of people
settling here minus the number emigrating – will run at 190,000 a year
in future years; last year it was 237,000.
And that brings me back to the graph. Looking ahead to 2028, the
population of the UK is set to increase by nearly ten million people;
of that, seven million will be due to immigration – equivalent to seven
cities the size of Birmingham. Nearly all the population increase will
be in England.
You may think that this immigration will benefit our economy. Well, the
House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affair’s exhaustive
investigation into immigration could find “no evidence” that net
immigration generates significant economic benefits for the resident UK
You may think that the recession will end mass immigration. Think
again: the last three recessions saw immigration come down, only to
pick up again afterwards.
You may think that we can find space for 7 million people. Really?
England is already the most crowded country in Europe and, of major
countries, the fourth most crowded after Bangladesh, Taiwan and South
You may think that politicians who raise this subject are racist. Not
so. Recent polls show this issue bothers recent immigrants just as much
as the indigenous population.
Finally, you may even believe the Government when it says that the new
Points Based System will tackle this challenge. Dream on: had the
Points Based System been in place last year, it would have cut
immigration by just 12,000 or 6%. To stay below 70 million, net
migration must be reduced to about 60,000 a year, or by 75%, and held
at that level. Even that would be adding the population of Sweden to
that of England.
Frank Field and I have set up a Cross Party group to call for a
completely new approach to immigration – which we call Balanced
Migration. That is, the Government should set a clear target of
reducing, over time, the number of people who are given permission to
settle here to equate to the number of British citizens emigrating.
Based on research conducted by MigrationWatch UK, this policy would
hold the population to 65 million. Balanced Migration is possible:
between 1991-3 the UK had net immigration of close to zero. (And it is
worth noting that even this would mean adding almost the population of
Scotland to that of England.)
A key first step would be very simple. We should break the link between
giving non-EU citizens the right to work here, and giving them
permission to settle here permanently. Those who want to settle would
have to apply via a second Points Based System. Only a certain number
would be given permission to settle.
This approach is not only simple, but it reflects the needs of
business. For we are not suggesting that businesses should be denied
access to skilled labour – only that people who come to work here for a
few years should not automatically gain the right to settle here
So it is to time to reframe the entire debate about immigration. It is
not about who comes, but who stays. And we need to answer a simple
question: if we do not want the UK’s population to soar to 70 or even
80 million, what are we going to do about it?