Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of Migrationwatch UK.
Yesterday’s immigration figures are clearly bad news for the Government. A doubling of net migration from the EU to 130,000 in the year to last September has blown them off course. A continued inflow from Poland seems to have been augmented by workers from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Unless there is an unexpected improvement in the EU economy, that inflow can be expected to continue at least for the next few years.
Ironically, the Government’s immigration policy has been succeeding where it can. Non-EU net migration has fallen steadily to 140,000, and could yet come down to 120,000 by next February, the last statistics before the general election.
It is EU migration that has shot up. For the 18 years before the Conservatives set their immigration target, British emigration had roughly cancelled out EU immigration. Had that been maintained, their immigration target might well have been met. That is no longer possible.
As it has turned out, the politics of these new numbers could hardly be more awkward for the Government. They are grist to the mill for those who argue that we will never be able to control our borders for so long as we remain in the EU.
It is indeed hard to deny the growing tension between the very strong public desire to control and reduce immigration and our continued membership of the EU. The free movement to which our EU partners are fundamentally committed has turned out to have rather different and serious implications for the UK. The fundamental mistake was to expand the EU to include 100 million people with a standard of living of about one quarter of ours. Britain’s open society, free labour market and non- contributory benefit system, not to speak of our international language, have combined to make this small island, along with Germany, the destinations of choice for a considerable flow of economic migrants.
The best objective in any forthcoming negotiation with the EU would be to seek to close off both in-work and out-of-work benefits for EU citizens for five years. This would put them in the same position as non-EU migrants. Even so, there would still be strong economic incentives for immigration from Eastern Europe. It is not a question of benefit tourism. Most East Europeans come to work but the fact remains that they qualify for in-work benefits, especially if they have a family. Even without any benefits at all, many would double or treble their incomes by coming to work in the UK. As the number of their fellow citizens already here increases, it becomes easier still for others to follow. The same could, perhaps, apply to migrants from southern Europe if youth unemployment there continues to be astronomically high.
Labour will be tempted to crow but they need to be careful. Revised ONS figures, also released on Thursday, show that immigration under Labour peaked at nearly one third of a million and that a total of very nearly four million migrants arrived on their watch. It is undeniable, therefore, that they lost control of our borders. If the coalition government had not bent every effort to reduce non-EU migration, the total could now be running at about 300,000 a year with no serious efforts to reduce it. Where would public opinion and community relations have been then?