The Leave campaign has been talking a lot about immigration, but just what kind of effect would Brexit have? How many fewer would come? “Up to us, that’s the point of this referendum” said Nigel Farage, in is interview with Andrew Neil. Let MPs debate the ideal figure in the Commons, he said. His implication: that post-Brexit Britain could pick a number for net migration, any number. Given that Britain’s net migration is about 330,000 a year, Andrew Neil asked Farage how far he sees it falling after Brexit. He didn’t have an answer. From the 1050s to the 1990s, it used to be 30,000 to 40,000 a year, he (wrongly) said. That was “acceptable” so “let’s get back to normality”. But, Neil retorted, take away every EU immigrant and we would still have net migration of almost twice the government’s target of 100,000. We could retrieve these powers over border control, and still not be able to resolve the issue. His reply:-
“Not with the right government. That’s the point, isn’t it: there has been no resolve. Despite the fact tat the PM has won two elections – albeit one in a coalition – with a pledge to reduce net migration to tens of thousands a year, he’s shown no resolve with non-EU migration. And with EU migration he still is not admitting in this referendum the truth: that he still does not have that ability.”
This is an entirely different argument. Farage has been talking as if the EU were responsible for mass immigration – now he is blaming the government in Westminster. The UK has all the tools it needs over non-EU immigration, but the number is still massively over the target. And why? Because controlling immigration is a lot tougher than Farage makes out: having the tools doesn’t mean that they work, or that they will be used properly. The idea of Brexit leading us back to 1950s levels of immigration is a fantasy.
Of course, Brexit would make a significant difference to immigration. The OECD reckons that Brexit would cut EU migration by about 84,000: significant, but look at the above chart. Such a figure is far from decisive, in an era when net migration is running 230,000 a year above target. “The problem is numbers” Farage said. Not quite: his problem is numbers, and his shaky grasp over them. “The estimate is about 450,000 new jobs were created last year 80pc of which were taken by people born overseas,” he said: eh? British-born people take (at least) nine out of ten vacancies filled in Britain. Even if he’s talking about net rise in employment numbers, it’s split evenly:-
GDP is only growing because of immigration, he burbled later on: “what is not growing is GDP per capita.” Again, wrong. GDP per capita has been growing constantly for seven years, along with the general economic recovery (I’ll spare you the graph).
Nigel Farage has been going from town hall to television studio, hawking the false idea that Brexit will make our immigration problem go away. And tonight, at long last, he was rumbled.