UK politics continues to be dominated by Brexit. While the British people may be thoroughly bored with this situation, I’m afraid it’s going to carry on for several years yet. Certainly, there will be no escape for those of us involved in politics. Or for those who write occasional newspaper columns or blog posts! Today, my writing reflects on last week’s immigration figures.
During the lead-up to the EU Referendum in June 2016, one of the biggest issues of debate was migration into the UK. I have always thought it likely (though unprovable) that this was a major influence on how the UK voted in the referendum. At the time, net immigration was about 336,000 per annum. I was often asked about this. My response was that while over the short term, this would not be disadvantageous to the UK, it was not sustainable over the long term. This remains my view. I also thought that a vote to Leave would not have much impact on net immigration figures. I was wrong, though not for the reasons I thought.
Net annual immigration into the UK began rapid growth in 1993, and reached its peak of 336,00 in 2015. The first full year figures since the EU referendum shows net immigration falling by 32% to 230,000, the sharpest decrease on record. Less than a half of is from the EU. Well over half of it is non EU. At same time there has been a significant net outward migration of UK citizens.
Of course we don’t know why net immigration has fallen so significantly. In part it may be because the economies of the countries from which has been the source of immigration has created and is providing more jobs at home. Undoubtedly, the fall in value of sterling will have made a big difference, as the spending power of what immigrants earn has fallen significantly. There may even be some truth in the suggestions that EU based immigration has felt less welcome since the referendum.
While net immigration figures were undoubtedly too high, putting strain on our public serices, too sudden a reduction will cause serious problems. Our social care and hospitality sectors have been very dependent on immigrant workers for many years. In the agriculture, horticulture and tourism related sectors, too sudden reduction in migrant labour will have serious consequences. As the UK takes back control of immigration, we must remember the benefits, both economic and cultural that immigration brings.