In 2010, David Cameron said “We would like to see net immigration in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands,” but figures show net migration is at its highest level since 2005.
When the Conservatives made their pledge, the net flow of migration was 244,000. In 2011, Cameron (seen above in 2010) repeated his pledge, saying “Net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year. No ifs, no buts. That’s a promise we made to the British people.”
But the newest figures show last year the net immigration figure was was 54,000 higher than in 2010, at 298,000. That means the Conservatives will go to election without coming close to having fulfilled the PM’s promise, handing ammunition to both Labour and Ukip.
This figure is not a surprise to the government – last November Theresa May, the home secretary, said: “It is, of course, unlikely that we are going to reach the tens of thousands by the end of the parliament.” She added that Cameron’s speech was a comment, rather than a pledge.
I said to David Cameron he shouldn’t make the commitment because it was inevitable he was going to break it because you can’t control the net figure. Nick Clegg
The Office of National Statistics said the figure was up from 210,000 in 2013, driven by significant increases in immigration of non-EU citizens – up 49,000 to 292,000 – and European Union citizens – up 43,000 to 251,000. The government has no power to limit immigration from within the EU. About 327,000 people emigrated from the UK in the same period.
Nick Clegg was quick to jump on the figures, saying the Tories would have to “suffer the embarrassment of having … failed spectacularly to deliver”.
“I said to David Cameron he shouldn’t make the commitment because it was inevitable he was going to break it because you can’t control the net figure,” Clegg said on his weekly LBC radio phone-in.
The ONS said that there had been a statistically significant increase in Romanian and Bulgarian citizens arriving in the UK since restrictions were lifted – up to 37,000 from 24,000 in the previous 12 months. Of these, 27,000 were coming for work, a rise of 10,000 on the year ending September 2013, the ONS added.
About 271,000 people came to the UK for work, a rise of 54,000 on a year earlier, while immigration for study rose from 175,000 to 192,000. Those coming to join family in the UK rose by 14,000, to 90,000.
The latest migration figures reflect Britain’s growing economy and should not be used by the political parties as a launch-pad for their negative political campaigns. Migrant’s Rights Network director Don Flynn
Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “UK job growth is likely to be a key factor behind the recent increases.
“If the UK’s economic performance compared to the rest of the EU had been poor, then we might well have seen net migration fall, but that has not happened. Rising work-related migration from outside the EU has also contributed.”
And Migrant’s Rights Network director Don Flynn urged the parties not to use the issue to score points: “The latest migration figures reflect Britain’s growing economy and should not be used by the political parties as a launch-pad for their negative political campaigns shifting the blame for wider problems on to migrants.
“What these numbers show is that Britain is more than ever an outward-facing, globalised country with a diverse and hardworking population from overseas. However, we fear that the political debate ahead of the general election will fail to reflect that contemporary reality in any meaningful way.”
Despite Flynn’s plea, the immigration and security minister James Brokenshire described the figures as disappointing, saying “We have been blown off course by net migration from within the EU, which has more than doubled since 2010. That’s why we need to continue to crack down on the abuse of EU free movement and continue our reforms to make our welfare system fairer and less open to abuse.”
He added that the Conservatives’ Immigration Act had made it much tougher for illegal immigrants to remain in the UK by restricting access to work, housing, benefits, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences. Exit checks, said Brokenshire, would help the UK to ensure that people had left the country when their visas expired.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The prime minister is disappointed with today’s figures.” She added that Cameron believed “we will have a better, stronger country, if we have lower net migration.”