Instead of fewer immigrants, more have actually come to the UK since Brexit. Net migration figures today show that since the take-back control pledge that was crucial to leaving the European Union, more migrants have actually crossed the UK border. The numbers have more than doubled since the Brexit.
Concerns about immigration played a prominent role in the 2016 referendum on European membership. Many Leave voters said the free movement of people within the European Union was problematic, especially in relation to Eastern European EU migrants working in Britain.
Official data now shows that 1.2 million people arrived in the UK last year. When you factor in those who have since left again (557,000), 606,000 people were added to the national population last year.
This rise is due to several factors, according to experts. Due to immigration rules resulting from the Brexit, the arrival of EU citizens dropped considerably. But to compensate for labour market impacts, visa regulations were actually relaxed for people from the rest of the world, especially for workers with high education.
There was also a surge in foreign students coming to the UK with their families. Although this group is very lucrative for UK universities, the government – visibly panicked by the rising numbers – recently announced restrictions.
A third large group, accounting for some 160,000, is made up of refugees from Ukraine and Hong Kong. Like last year, they entered the country under special arrangements.
But the migrants we hear the most political noise about – the illegal crossings of the Channel – do not even appear to constitute such a large group compared to these figures. These boats may dominate the headlines, but in the past year they involved about 50,000 people: out of a total of 600,000 immigrants, a relatively small number. In short, today’s record immigration figures are mainly related to policy decisions by the current government, students and the exodus from Hong Kong and Ukraine, and to a much lesser extent illegal migrants on the Channel.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak therefore stresses that with the war in Ukraine, among other things, there are unprecedented circumstances. He can also point out that compared to previous years, more highly skilled people are entering the country.
Still, the record high numbers are hard to explain to the Conservative Party, which has been promising less immigration for the past decade as a core value of their manifesto.
Today’s figures are bound to have political implications, including for UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman, known for her fierce anti-immigration views. Braverman frequently focused her attention on the “invasion of illegal boat migrants whose values conflict with those of our country”. Moreover, she is the driving force behind the plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, to be realised this summer.
Opposition leader Keir Starmer, meanwhile, feels more confident than ever. “The Conservative Party has lost control of everything; the economy, public services, and now immigration,” he shouted yesterday during the weekly question time in the House of Commons.
Labour’s own policy plan on immigration is downright unclear, but despite the risk of it being pointed out, the party is mounting a full-on attack to portray the current Conservative government as incompetent.