Theresa May hit by migrant target farce as record numbers of Europeans leave UK

Theresa May‘s immigration policy was engulfed in fresh criticism today as figures revealed a slump in EU workers coming to Britain — and a surge in arrivals from outside Europe.

The Office for National Statistics said that an outflow of Eastern Europeans means that net migration from Europe has fallen to its lowest level in a decade.

But at the same time the numbers coming to the UK from the rest of the world has soared to 261,000 — more than double the Prime Minister’s target of cutting net migration to below 100,000. 

The net migration total of 283,000 for the latest annual period, which covers the 12 months to the end of September last year, was even higher. The Confederation of British Industry responded by warning that the drop in EU migration was “exacerbating labour and skills shortages across many sectors”, as Labour condemned the “rotten” policy. Other critics warned that uncertainty over Brexit was driving away talent. Many of Mrs May’s most senior colleagues also privately oppose her target.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes insisted that the country was “continuing to attract and retain highly skilled workers, including more doctors and nurses”, and more international students. The Prime Minister’s spokesman also defended the Government’s record, while admitting that Mrs May’s target would “take time” to achieve.

The detailed breakdown of today’s figures shows that 57,000 more European citizens moved to Britain than left in the 12 months to the end of September last year. That amounted to the lowest overall inflow since 2009 and only about a third of the peak of 189,000 recorded in 2016. 

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The main reason was a net exodus of Eastern Europeans from countries such as Poland which joined the EU in 2004. Arrivals from older member states, such as France, Germany and Italy, continued to outstrip departures.

By contrast, the 261,000 net inflow from outside Europe was the highest total since 2004.

Jay Lindop, from the ONS, said that “complex factors”, including work, family and study influenced people’s decisions to move, but that new patterns of migration had followed the 2016 Brexit referendum. 

Matthew Fell, the CBI’s chief UK policy director, said the statistics showed that businesses were losing access to vital talent.

“Businesses cannot succeed without access to skills and labour, which is why it’s so important the Government delivers a post-Brexit immigration system which is both open and controlled,” he added.

Immigration lawyer Sophie Barrett-Brown, from Laura Devine Solicitors in London, warned:  “EU nationals are voting with their feet and fewer are choosing to remain in or move to the UK.”

Other significant disclosures in today’s statistics are that the number of people moving here to work has fallen to its lowest level since 2014. The main reason was the drop in European arrivals.

The number of overseas students arriving rose to 217,000, with the total for those arriving from outside Europe at its highest level since 2011.



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