The Washington Post

Despite Brexit pledges, net U.K. migration reached a record high last year


london — Britain left the European Union with the goal of taking back control of its borders, and successive post-brexit prime ministers have promised to slash immigratio­n, but data released Thursday showed instead that immigratio­n is continuing to increase the population of the United Kingdom.

About 1.2 million people arrived in Britain in 2022 and 557,000 people left, putting net migration at a record-high 606,000, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The “numbers are too high, it’s as simple as that,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told ITV after the figures were released. “I want to bring them down.”

A closer look at the statistics reveals a very real Brexit impact, with more E.U. citizens leaving than arriving in Britain. Last year, there was a net loss of 51,000 E.U. citizens.

But there was a jump in people coming from the rest of the world, notably to work in health and social care. There were also more internatio­nal students, which made up almost 40 percent of all non-e.u. migrants in 2022.

Britain also accepted more than 110,000 Ukrainians and 50,000 Hong Kongers on special visas.

Public attitudes about immigratio­n have changed dramatical­ly since the 2016 Brexit vote. Overall, there has been a “gradual warming,” according to the Ipsos immigratio­n tracker.

Polls show that Brits are now more concerned about inflation and the economy than they are immigratio­n.

Rob Ford, a politics professor from Manchester University, noted during a Twitter Spaces session on Thursday that were large spikes in public support for immigratio­n that could help address labor shortages in areas such as restaurant­s, constructi­on and fruit picking.

“The architects of Brexit should be cheering,” Ford said. “We have a system that voters approve of, and when pressures rise in the labor market, voters say ‘okay.’ That’s where the electorate are. We need the politician­s to catch up with them.”

But Conservati­ve voters are more concerned about immigratio­n than Labour voters are, and taking a hard-line stance on immigratio­n has proved to be an election winner for previous Conservati­ve government­s. The current one is betting on it, too.

Sunak has said that he wants to bring net migration below 500,000, the figure he “inherited” when he came into office. His administra­tion has also made stopping asylum seekers arriving on “small boats” one of its five key pledges ahead of the next general election, which must be held by January 2025.

The Conservati­ves are hoping that focusing on immigratio­n will help to galvanize their base. A recent poll found them trailing the opposition Labour Party by 18 points.

The new figures published Thursday tell many stories, one of which is that net migration may have peaked.

Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observator­y at the University of Oxford, said that the net migration figures in 2022 were “unusually high,” in part because of the war in Ukraine, a boom in internatio­nal student recruitmen­t, and high demand for health and care workers.

While it’s difficult to predict future trends, she said, “there is no reason to assume that net migration would remain this high indefinite­ly.”

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