Record Immigration Proves Britain Must Get On With Brexit

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By Harry Phibbs | 3:10 am, December 2, 2016

Well it’s nice to be popular. Official figures show that net migration to the UK is almost at a record level, with 335,000 more people arriving than leaving in the year to June. Of those, 130,000 were “looking for work” rather than having a definite job to go to. A record number of EU citizens arrived – 284,000.

As prime minister, David Cameron pledged to cut immigration to the tens of thousands. That was foolish – not just because our membership of the EU meant he did not have the power to deliver it. It was also foolish as the net total is not the crucial point. To say that net migration of, say, 80,000 would be good but that of, for example, 130,000 would be bad is too arbitrary.

We are often told that the Brexit vote was an anti-immigration vote. Usually the people telling us this are those who voted Remain. But the proposal from the Vote Leave campaign was for a “points-based” immigration system – not to stop immigration altogether.

Opinion polling (and my own experience of knocking on doors) indicated that sovereignty was the biggest issue. The word wasn’t necessarily used but the message – to “take back control” – resonated. Trying to compartmentalise the two issues doesn’t really work anyway.


Part of taking back control means having control of our borders. That surely means that as a self-governing nation we have the power to decide who to let in. You might be a very hospitable fellow who enjoyed having your friends and neighbours to visit your home – that doesn’t mean you give them all their own keys. This is a practical matter – no more, no less.

In Australia and New Zealand immigration is higher per capita than in the UK. But the subject causes less anxiety there because there is a sense of reassurance that the numbers are under democratic control. The significantly smaller populations of those countries, and their greater land masses, undoubtedly play an important part as well.

If we were able to sort out the housing supply in Britain then concern about immigration would  perhaps diminish. It’s not that Britain is “full” in the literal sense – only seven per cent of the UK is urban according to a report on our ecosystems.

Furthermore “urban” doesn’t mean built on – there is more space devoted to golf clubs than housing in the urban areas. Only a fifth of the urban space is covered with buildings. So only around one per cent of the UK is actually built on, as far as the figures tell us.

But there is a housing shortage due to the planning system. It severely constrains the building of new homes and ensures that what little new housing does appear is usually ugly and therefore unpopular.

Also, pressure on the NHS and school places must be eased. Therefore if immigration applies to those with skills and wealth creating capacity it should be seen as part of the solution rather than a burden. Generating economic growth helps pay for better public services.

It is not all about economics. Successful integration means being able to deport criminals – rather than being constrained from doing so due to rules about their “human rights”. It is also far more important that people speak English in being able to fit in than the colour of their skin.

Debate must shift from pro-immigration/anti-immigration to what individuals offer. Entrepreneurs? Yes please. Welfare tourists? No thanks.

Probably the total does need to come down but gaining control means a chance of a more sophisticated immigration policy than a crude focus on the total numbers.

What the figures do show is the need for a sense of urgency. Let’s get on with Brexit so that we can control this situation. We need to balance our growing economy with the need for good community relations. We also need to avoid overloading our creaking public services.