Sir Andrew Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK.
There is no point in trying to disguise that the latest immigration statistics are bad news for the Government. Their goal of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands by the next election will now almost certainly not be met. Overall net migration was 243,000 in the year to March 2014, up from 175,000 in the previous twelve months. Two thirds of the increase was due to immigration from the EU, which now accounts for 45 per cent of net migration to the UK.
Immigration on this scale is simply not sustainable; if it continues at this pace, the UK’s population will grow by another 12 million in the next 20 years – the equivalent of 12 cities the size of Birmingham. Where will all these people go? England already has one of the highest population densities in Europe – not to mention the massive strain that such a large population will place on the country’s infrastructure, schools, hospitals and environment.
The immigration industry is having a field day with calls to drop the net migration target from those who never had any intention of controlling immigration. The IPPR have even suggested that net migration of over 200,000 a year is the ‘new norm’, and thus something we should just get used to. Such calls are designed to suggest that efforts to reduce net migration are fruitless in the face of globalisation.
This does not fit the facts. Globalisation has been developing for decades, yet it was only under Labour in 1998 that immigration took off. Until then, net migration had been in the low tens of thousands. It has since been admitted that they sent out ‘search parties for immigrants’. They succeeded. Net migration under Labour averaged 20 times that in the preceding Conservative years.
The current Government should be commended for setting a net migration target giving a clear direction to the Home Office and other departments. Without the extensive reforms carried out since 2010, net migration would be even higher today. The Government must now consider what reforms can be made to Freedom of Movement in the EU, so as to limit the number of low skilled EU migrants coming to the UK, at least until migratory pressures abate.
Ministers must also take on the vociferous student lobby, given that only about a third of students entering the country are currently recorded as going home. They should also plan for substantially greater funding for immigration enforcement which, at the moment, is desperately weak. Bringing down net migration has proved even harder than expected, but the alternative is dealing with the serious practical, social and political consequences of a massive population increase. At stake is the future scale and nature of our society and – consequently, public confidence in the effectiveness of our political system.