The triggering of Article 50 last week was a major step towards honouring the referendum result.
It will undoubtedly please the 69% of the public who say they want Brexit to go ahead (YouGov poll, March 2017)
Yet the mass-migration lobby continues to make unconvincing assertions about the risk of economic damage if free movement is curtailed.
A recent New Statesman article (‘Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs migrants’, 28th March) typifies this, claiming that immigration brings a net fiscal contribution for the UK of £7 billion a year.
It is unclear where this figure comes from as no reference is included.
However, it is contradicted by studies of empirical evidence by a range of organisations, including the UCL’s Centre for the Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM).
Research by CReAM published in 2014 found that immigration has been a net fiscal cost to the UK, with researchers disagreeing only on the size and components of that cost. The study finds that between 1995 and 2011, immigration to the UK resulted in an overall cost of between £115 billion and £159 billion, or £20 to £25 million per day during that period. This resulted from a lower employment rate of migrants overall, lower wages for some groups and the cost of public services and benefits. All of these factors remain in place to the present.
Clearly skilled migrants in high-paid jobs will make a positive contribution. However, 80% of EU workers who have arrived in the last ten years are in lower-skilled jobs. The Government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee has not reported a positive economic impact from low-skilled migration on fiscal contribution, GDP per head or productivity.
The article also notes that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) project that, with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145% of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73%.
However, these projections are now out of date. The OBR’s latest Fiscal Sustainability Report projects that even higher ‘high net migration’ would not prevent public sector debt rising towards 200% by then.
The OBR does project that, over the next decade, high migration would reduce the debt/GDP ratio to 1% lower than it would otherwise have been, but after that date it would not prevent the ratio rising inexorably to unsustainable levels.
The OBR acknowledges that ‘higher migration could be seen as delaying some of the fiscal challenges of an ageing population rather than a way of avoiding them’. As the OECD put it: “This type of demographic dividend vanishes quickly as migrants also age or leave.”
Immigration may also be one of a range of causes for the UK’s abysmal productivity, comparative to the rest of the G7.
As journalist Jeremy Warner has noted (Daily Telegraph, (£), March 2016): “There is some evidence to suggest that employers are choosing easily dispensable cheap labour in preference to productivity-enhancing investment.” He adds that ‘the inexhaustible supply of cheap labour that uncontrolled mass migration provides is almost bound to be bad for low skill wages’.
Indeed, despite repeated attempts by academics, politicians and journalists to suggest otherwise, there is no evidence that the very large amount of migration into low-skilled or low-paid work in the UK over the past decade or so has in any way enhanced productivity or, consequently, GDP per person.
What is clear is that recent record levels of immigration are causing the UK’s population to rise at the fastest rate in nearly a century, by half a million each year.
High immigration means that there are more people for the NHS to care for. It also places a strain on schools, with three-fifths of primary schools in England expected to have a shortfall of places by next year. The demand for homes driven by high inflows of people will also ensure the continuation and worsening of the housing crisis. Indeed, the ONS finds that 95% of the increase in new households between 2010 and 2014 was accounted for by non UK-born heads of household.
The triggering of Article 50 means the government now has an opportunity, and indeed a solemn duty, to deliver on its promise to reduce net migration.
Migration Watch UK has set out how EU migration could be reduced by 100,000 a year.
There are now no excuses for a failure to take decisive action.