Net migration up 20 per cent

Figures show that limiting how many can come into the UK doesn’t necessarily translate to a drop in

Net migration to the UK rose by more than 20 per cent last year, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics annual bulletin showed that net long-term immigration was 196,000, up by 33,000 from 2008. This brings immigration close to record levels.

The number of people arriving in the UK actually fell slightly, by 4 per cent, taking the number from 590,000 to 567,000. However, this was offset by the number of people leaving -- both foreign nationals and British citizens -- which dropped even further, by 13 per cent.

Why are so many more people choosing to remain in Britain? It's possible that foreign nationals living and working in the UK are concerned about the coalition's cap on immigration. Those with UK work permits or other forms of legal status, but not citizenship or "indefinite leave to remain", might be concerned that if they leave the UK re-entry will be problematic.

UK citizens also stayed put, with long-term emigration falling to 371,000 last year from 427,000 in 2008. Why could this be? Difficult economic times are usually a push factor for people to leave the country. Perhaps, in the recession, fewer people are willing to take the risk, or are keen to hang on to their jobs -- it's all speculation.

What is certain, however, is that this highlights a fundamental flaw in the notion of the immigration cap, which David Cameron claimed would bring immigration down into the "tens of thousands".

Fundamentally, limiting the number of people who can come to the UK does not necessarily translate to a drop in net migration. Quite apart from the issue of EU immigration (which will not be included in the cap), we can see that there are numerous other factors, such as people choosing not to leave.

The number of people granted settlement in the UK between June 2009 and June 2010 also rose by 37 per cent. Of these people, 68 per cent were dependants of those already living in the country.

While the coalition plans to tighten rules on English testing for spouses applying for visas, it is difficult to see how it could feasibly (and humanely) limit the number of dependants coming to the UK. There is an ongoing debate about student visas, too; the number granted in the same period went up by 35 per cent, to 362,015.

It's a complex picture, and one that is difficult to decipher. But these figures certainly demonstrate that arbitrarily limiting immigration will, in itself, do nothing to solve the perceived problems. The consultation on how to put the cap into action ends on 17 September -- it will be interesting to see what the report comes up with.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.