The inconveniently-timed net migration figures are out this morning, and they’re not good for the Prime Minister’s pledge to get immigration into the ‘tens of thousands’ by the general election. The Office for National Statistics estimates that net long-term migration to the UK was 212,000 in 2013. This is a rise—one the ONS says is ‘not a statistically significant increase’—from 177,000 the previous year. But what is ‘significant’ is the increase in the number of EU migrants – 201,000 EU citizens came to the UK in 2013, up from 158,000 the previous year.

The figures released today show 214,000 people came to the UK for work in 2013, which is a statistically significant increase from 158,000 the previous year. As for those leaving the UK, 314,000 people left the UK, compared to 321,000 the previous year.

The net migration figures may not be a ‘statistically significant increase’, but they’re also not a drop. And this is a problem for David Cameron, who made a point of saying his pledge was ‘achievable’ while carefully avoiding saying whether the Conservatives would definitely meet it.

But it doesn’t need to be a problem, or at least as much of an internal party management problem as it could have been. These inconveniently-timed figures could have caused a ruckus in a grumpier Conservative party – and some troublemakers may well use them in the next few weeks if they do fancy picking a fight. But as I reported earlier this week, mainstream eurosceptic MPs have offered the Prime Minister cover by suggesting that he should drop the migration target and use its failure as a way of arguing for fundamental reform in the European Union. Today’s figures showing a ‘significant’ rise in EU citizens coming to Britain do help that argument: the government cannot control a significant element of its net migration target. Based on the Prime Minister’s previous form, though, it will be a suggestion that falls on rather deaf ears for a while at least.

Tags: David Cameron, EU, EU reform, European Union, Immigration, migration, net migration