Trouble for the Tories as net migration rises to 176,000

The 23,000 increase in net migration suggests Cameron will struggle to meet his target of reducing it to "tens of thousands" by 2015.

After scepticism that David Cameron would even get close to his goal of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year by the end of this parliament, the Conservatives have recently hailed their success in cutting it by a third since 2010. But today's figures from the ONS show that, after five successive quarters of decline, the numbers are now moving in the wrong direction.

In the year to December 2012, net migration (the difference between the number of emigrants and immigrants) stood at 176,000, up from 153,000 in the year to September 2012. This was due to a decline in emigration (which fell from 351,000 to 321,000), rather than an increase in immigration (which fell from 566,000 to 497,000), but since Cameron chose to adopt the net migration figure as his metric of success, the trend is politically problematic (if not economically problematic. As I've previously notedmigrants contribute far more in taxes than they receive in benefits and services and the OBR estimates that Britain needs net migration of around 140,000 a year to limit the increase in the national debt to 99 per cent of GDP.)

Worse for the Tories, it will become even harder for them to reach their target once the transitional controls on Romanian and Bulgarian expire on 1 January 2014. While there are likely to be far fewer new arrivals than UKIP and the right-wing press suggest, the Migration Matters Trust estimates that at least 20,000 will move to the UK. With Cameron powerless to restrict EU immigration, owing to the principle of the free movement of labour, the likelihood is that the total number will rise. Ahead of next summer's European elections, that will prove a political gift for Farage and co. 

David Cameron talks to UK Border Agency officials in their control room during a visit to Heathrow terminal 5. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The New Statesman 2016 local and devolved elections liveblog

Results and analysis from elections across the United Kingdom. 

Welcome to the New Statesman's elections liveblog. Results will be coming in from the devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales, local elections in England, and the mayoral contests in London, Salford, Bristol and Liverpool. Hit refresh for updates!

22:11: It's true! Andy Burnham is considering running for Greater Manchester mayor. Right, that's it, I'm quitting the liveblog. Nothing I say tonight can top that. 

22:09: Rumours that professional Scouser Andy Burnham is considering a bid for Greater Manchester mayor according to Sky News. Not sure if this is a) a typo for Merseyside or b) a rumour or c) honestly I don't know. More as I find out. 

22:06: Conservatives are feeling good about Trafford, one of the few councils they run in the North West.

22:03: Polls have closed. Turnout looks to be low in London. What that means is anyone's guess to be honest. There isn't really a particular benefit to Labour if turnout is high although that is a well-worn myth. In the capital in particular, turnout isn't quite as simple a zero-sum game as all that. Labour are buoyant, but so are the Tories. In Scotland, well, the only questions are whether or not the SNP will win every single first past the post seat or just the overwhelming majority. Both Labour and Tory sources are downplaying their chances of prevailing in the battle for second place at Holyrood, so make of that what you will. And in Wales, Labour look certain to lose seats but remain in power in some kind of coalition deal. 

22:00: Good evening. I'm your host, Stephen Bush, and I'll be with you throughout the night as results come in from throughout the country. The TV screens are on, I've just eaten, and now it's time to get cracking. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.