Lord Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK.
Daniel Korski, the former Deputy Director of David Cameron’s Policy Unit, has published an illuminating account of the Government’s approach to the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Writing about David Cameron’s renegotiation seeking agreement to restrict welfare payments to new migrants, he recalls being told in Brussels by European counterparts that many more migrants were going to Germany than Britain, that migrants paid more tax than they consumed in public services and that Britain merely needed to redistribute more resources to areas facing challenges.
He continues: “We were never able to counter these arguments. To be honest, we failed to find any evidence of communities under pressure that would satisfy the European Commission…There was no hard evidence.” This is a remarkable admission from someone whose job it was to gather evidence for policy and to foresee challenges to it. Yet despite having the whole machinery of government at his disposal, he seems to have sent the former Prime Minister empty-handed into the negotiating room.
Some commentators are now using this as “evidence” that immigration has had no impact on local communities. For example, a recent report in the Times (£) runs with the headline ‘Migration had “no effect” on services’. However, since 2010 the non-UK born migrant population in the UK has increased by 1.4 million, and just under 940,000 children have been born in the UK to foreign-born mothers. It would be extraordinary if this had had no impact on communities up and down the UK.
The work of those outside government is fundamentally limited by the availability of data published by government – especially in respect of migrants use or benefit from publicly-provided services. For example, no information at all is published on country of birth or nationality of users of the NHS. Where government does publish data it is often incomplete: in 2012, our paper on social housing noted that the DCLG public database contained nationality information in only around 60 per cent of cases and that our attempts to fill in the gaps by Freedom of Information Act requests to local authorities were met with a range of excuses as to why information was not held or could not be provided.
That said, some matters are clear from data in the public domain. For example:
- Our population, driven by migration, is projected by the Office for National Statistics to grow by half a million a year, the fastest rate for nearly a century and equivalent to a city the size of Liverpool.
- We need to build a new home in England every five minutes for the next 25 years just to keep up with demand from future migration.
- The Department of Health has reported 650,000 new migrant GP registrations each year for the past five years.
- One in four births in England and Wales are to a foreign-born mother.
- By 2018, 60 per cent of primary schools are projected by the Local Government Association to have a shortfall in places.
- Nearly half of social housing in London is headed by a foreign-born person.
Korski should have been aware of statistics like these regularly made public by Migration Watch. The public consistently tell pollsters that pressure on services from high levels of migration concern them. Once Article 50 is invoked and the negotiations begin, we cannot afford a repeat of the ill-preparedness of the renegotiation. Our former partners must understand the forces driving our approach. Good policy and a strong negotiating position can only be founded on the back of proper evidence. Let us hope the lessons of earlier failures have been learned.