Blow for Cameron as net migration rises to 239,000

The PM will struggle to meet his pledge to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year.

David Cameron memorably promised to reduce net migration from "the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands" by the end of this parliament. But the latest figures suggest that this will prove a Sisyphean task. Rather than falling, net migration is rising.

Estimates from the ONS show that net migration to Britain rose by 21 per cent to 239,000 last year, driven by a big fall in emigration (although Sky News leads with the erroneous claim that "immigration" is up to 239,000).The number of people leaving Britain to live abroad for more than 12 months was 336,000 in 2010, the lowest figure since June 2005. Thus, as Sunder Katwala quips, the government would have a better chance of hitting its target if it persuaded more Britons to leave (something George Osborne's economic policies may yet achieve).

Long-term immigration was 575,000, similar to the levels seen since 2004. The number of people coming from outside Europe to work with a definite job offer is at its lowest since 2004 at 110,000. However, immigration from within the EU, which is not subject to the coalition's immigration cap, rose to 39,000 in 2010, compared with 5,000 in 2009. It's unambiguously bad news for the Tories. So long as immigration from eastern Europe remains high and emigration remains low, both trends which ministers have no control over, Cameron cannot hope to meet his pledge.

With 69 per cent of new jobs going to foreign nationals, the migration cap was seen as an important supplement to Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms. But as the ippr's Matt Cavanagh wrote yesterday on The Staggers, it's now clear that the coalition cannot rely on the cap to reduce youth unemployment. The question now is whether the it will impose even more stringent restrictions on immigration or rethink its jobs strategy.

Update: The Sky News website has now removed its misleading claim that "immigration" is up to 239,000.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.