It’s appropriate that the new ONS figures on net migration have been released on a day when the whole of Westminster is talking about whether we should (or could) take back powers from Brussels.
In summary, net immigration rose in the first nine months of 2013, which is obviously bad news for the Government.
There are a number of conclusions we can draw:
1. It was unwise to measure the target by net migration. Technically, the government could hit the target by making Britain so bad that loads of us leave, even if immigration remained extremely high. The measure doesn’t match the political aims of the target. Are people on the doorstep concerned about the overall population, or about the level of immigration? Currently, we’re targeting the former, not the latter.
2. This is a problem caused by economic success. The return to growth, and our good fortune to be outside the Eurozone, means Britain is a safe haven which citizens want to stay in and foreign citizens want to move to. The relative nature of a net figure means the fall in emigration counts against the Government, despite being a sign of greater optimism about the country’s future. Given that growth was always the central objective, it should have been foreseen that without proper border control this would happen as a by-product of success on that front.
3. No government will ever be able to promise to reduce immigration as long as we are a member of the EU. The only lever the Government has is control of immigration from outside the EU – all those inside have unlimited free movement to come here. The story of the last four years has been increasingly tight controls on migrants from the rest of the world (the growing part of the global economy) combined with an uncontrolled influx from the EU (the stagnant part of the global economy). Not only does this simultaneously harm our links with booming countries like Brazil, India and China and leave us open to those fleeing economic disaster zones like Spain and Greece, it smashes yet more eggs into the collective face of the coalition.
Ultimately, this is a lesson in not making promises that are beyond your power to fulfil. People like immigration control, but they don’t believe politicians will live up to the pledges- today’s figures shows they were right, yet again.