The number of EU citizens coming to Britain fell by 7.7 per cent between March 2016 and March 2017. At the same time, the number of EU citizens leaving the UK rose by over a quarter. That’s according to new estimates from the Office for National Statistics, released today.
FactCheck looks at what we can learn from the data.
More EU citizens are leaving Britain, and fewer are coming here
In the year up to March 2017, 248,000 EU nationals came to Britain, while 122,000 left. In March 2016, annual immigration to Britain from the EU was 267,000, while the number of EU citizens leaving was 89,000.
That means there are still more EU citizens arriving than leaving, but the gap is smaller than it was last year. Net migration of EU citizens – the difference between annual immigration and emigration – is down 40 per cent since March 2016.
Nearly 50,000 EU8 nationals have left the UK since last year – up by a third since 2015-16
Citizens from the so-called “EU8 countries” have driven much of this change. This group of countries, which joined the EU in 2004, comprises: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Immigration from EU8 countries to Britain fell by 31 per cent between March 2016 and March 2017. And the number of EU8 citizens leaving went up by over a third. This means that net migration from EU8 citizens dropped significantly from 39,000 to just 7,000 in one year.
According to the ONS, this is the smallest net migration estimate for the EU8 since those countries joined the EU in 2004. Until now, the smallest migration gap we’ve seen was in 2009, when net migration with this group of EU states was 16,000.
How does EU migration compare to migration from the rest of the world?
Immigration from non-EU nationals fell from 288,000 in 2015-16 to 266,000 in 2016-17. That’s a drop of 8.3 per cent. But emigration was also down, with just 86,000 non-EU nationals leaving the UK this year, compared to the 95,000 who left last year.
Today’s figures show that net migration from outside the EU is down by nearly 8 per cent compared to last year. It currently stands at 179,000 – compared to 127,000 from EU nationals.
The number of British nationals leaving the UK is also up this year and now stands at 134,000 – 8,000 more than last year. The number of British nationals entering the UK from abroad is down from 83,000 to 74,000. Overall, the net migration to Britain by UK nationals stands at -60,000.
Will the government ever meet its commitment to bring migration down to the tens of thousands?
In the 1960s and 70s, net migration was in the negative numbers, with more people leaving Britain each year than arriving. In the 1990s, immigration began to rise faster than emigration – and since the mid-90s, net migration has continued to grow.
The government will be encouraged by today’s figures, which mark an overall drop in net migration (across all nationalities) of about a third.
But there are still 246,000 more people coming to Britain each year than leaving it. And that could be a problem for the Conservatives, after they reiterated their commitment to cutting net migration to the tens of thousands in this year’s election manifesto.
An editorial in the Evening Standard, the paper now run by former Chancellor George Osborne, said it would be difficult to reach this target because “net migration — the number of people arriving, minus the number leaving — is not in the gift of government, subject as it is to the vagaries of the world economy”.
And the paper isn’t alone in being sceptical. According to a poll by Ipsos Mori published in May this year, 68 per cent of the public agree that it is “unlikely” or “fairly unlikely” that the Conservatives will be able to cut net migration to that level.
Indeed, even if the government succeeds in this aim, some analysts argue that cutting migration to less than 100,000 could damage the UK economy. A 2017 report by the Centre for Economic and Business Research estimates that if the Tories met this target, it could cost the UK between 1.5 and 3.1 per cent of GDP by 2025.