Nicholas Soames MP: What are we going to do if we don't want our population to rise to 70 million in the next 20 years?
Nicholas Soames is MP for Mid Sussex and Co-Chairman of the Cross Party Group on Balanced Migration.
Graphs are usually not that exciting or compelling. This one is different. It clearly shows something that very few people realise: our population is on track to grow from 61 million to 70 million in the next 20 years, and 80 million in mid-century.
This is the backdrop to the debate about immigration. Make no mistake: I believe that immigration has benefited our country in numerous ways. But what we have seen in the last decade is uncontrolled, large scale and unprecedented levels of immigration. For example, East African Asians admitted in the mid-1970s amounted to 27,000 spread over two years. Net foreign immigration is now that number every month; in 2007 it reached one third of a million.
High levels of immigration are expected to continue. The Government’s own forecast assumes that net immigration – the number of people settling here minus the number emigrating – will run at 190,000 a year in future years; last year it was 237,000.
And that brings me back to the graph. Looking ahead to 2028, the population of the UK is set to increase by nearly ten million people; of that, seven million will be due to immigration – equivalent to seven cities the size of Birmingham. Nearly all the population increase will be in England.
You may think that this immigration will benefit our economy. Well, the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affair’s exhaustive investigation into immigration could find “no evidence” that net immigration generates significant economic benefits for the resident UK population.
You may think that the recession will end mass immigration. Think again: the last three recessions saw immigration come down, only to pick up again afterwards.
You may think that we can find space for 7 million people. Really? England is already the most crowded country in Europe and, of major countries, the fourth most crowded after Bangladesh, Taiwan and South Korea.
You may think that politicians who raise this subject are racist. Not so. Recent polls show this issue bothers recent immigrants just as much as the indigenous population.
Finally, you may even believe the Government when it says that the new Points Based System will tackle this challenge. Dream on: had the Points Based System been in place last year, it would have cut immigration by just 12,000 or 6%. To stay below 70 million, net migration must be reduced to about 60,000 a year, or by 75%, and held at that level. Even that would be adding the population of Sweden to that of England.
Frank Field and I have set up a Cross Party group to call for a completely new approach to immigration – which we call Balanced Migration. That is, the Government should set a clear target of reducing, over time, the number of people who are given permission to settle here to equate to the number of British citizens emigrating. Based on research conducted by MigrationWatch UK, this policy would hold the population to 65 million. Balanced Migration is possible: between 1991-3 the UK had net immigration of close to zero. (And it is worth noting that even this would mean adding almost the population of Scotland to that of England.)
A key first step would be very simple. We should break the link between giving non-EU citizens the right to work here, and giving them permission to settle here permanently. Those who want to settle would have to apply via a second Points Based System. Only a certain number would be given permission to settle.
This approach is not only simple, but it reflects the needs of business. For we are not suggesting that businesses should be denied access to skilled labour – only that people who come to work here for a few years should not automatically gain the right to settle here permanently.
So it is to time to reframe the entire debate about immigration. It is not about who comes, but who stays. And we need to answer a simple question: if we do not want the UK’s population to soar to 70 or even 80 million, what are we going to do about it?