Figures provide a boost to ‘Vote Leave’

Conservative MP and Minister of State for Employment, Priti Patel (right) and Penny Mordaunt, Minister of State for the Armed Forces hold up Vote Leave posters in Portsmouth earlier this month.   | Photo Credit: Matt Cardy

In what will have major implications for the raging referendum debate in the United Kingdom, new figures released by the Office for National Statistics today have shown that net long-term international migration into the United Kingdom in 2015 has not only risen substantially, but is three times more than the cut-off that was promised by the Conservative government as part of its stated commitment to curb immigration into the country.

The net migration for the year-ending December 2015 was 333,000, of which 184,000 were EU citizens. (David Cameron’s government had promised to cap migration at 100,000.) Of the total, 308,000 people migrated to the UK for work, an increase of 30,000 from the previous year and the highest estimate on record, according to the data. Of these, 178,000 (58%) had a definite job to go to and 130,000 (42%) arrived looking for work — the latter figure being an increase from 104,000 the previous year.

The immigration issue, which was already becoming the focus of the campaign, is likely to take centre-stage with the publication of these figures.

For the Leave campaign, pushed on the defensive by a series of warnings of the negative economic consequences of Brexit, this data could not have come at a better time. They now have an argument to counter the dire economic predictions of Brexit made in the recent past from high profile quarters — which has included the chief of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and the UK’s own Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne among others.

Although the Leave campaign has tried to dismiss these warnings as part of what they have called “Project Fear” that the Remain campaign is whipping up, the latter seems to have won the argument on the economy. In other words, the average voter is likely to believe that the economic consequences of leaving the EU would have more negative consequences than positive.

Immigration however is a more potent and emotive issue to exploit, and it is here that the new figures will play a role by stoking fears of an immigration tsunami, which is precisely what the Brexit camp, with the likes of Nigel Farage, head of the United Kingdom Independence Party, as one of its leading lights, is doing.

With news of an unceasing influx of refugees into Europe grabbing the headlines every day, including images of the recurring tragedies being played out in the seas as overcrowded boats carrying refugees heading to the shores of Europe capsize in the Mediterranean, immigration is an easy scare story to exploit.

In this scenario it is EU immigration that will be at the centre of the debate, given the open borders policy that binds all members of the EU. The argument that is advanced by the Leave camp is that a) EU immigrants take away local jobs and b) they put pressure on social infrastructure including the benefits system and the National Health Service, which in recent months has been under severe financial pressure.

It is true that the NHS is facing a crisis of funding and organisation. The Leave campaign argues that this is essentially a crisis of ever increasing pressure from a growing immigrant consumer base, whereas the Remain campaign maintains that these are systemic and would need to be addressed regardless of fresh immigration.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 3:16:01 PM |

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