Although I understand that the Brexit vote was driven by many reasons and factors, and personally I think that the retention of sovereignty in an institution that the people can vote for is the most compelling one, there is no doubt that immigration was one of those factors. Many people voting in the referendum were concerned about mass migration to Europe and the perceived inability of Britain to prevent immigration if it wanted to. Instead, the fear was that the British immigration policy would be decided by whether or not the German Chancellor was confronted by a crying Lebanese girl or not.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of that view, large scale immigration was a serious political issue in Britain for many many voters. That is why David Cameron promised to cut net migration to the tens of thousands per year. He failed to do so. Currently the United Kingdom population is about 66 million, and five-sixths of that population (55.6 million people) live in England. Now, with the fate of Brexit hanging in the balance, it seems as if the English population is set to grow substantially over the next few years. Thanks to immigration.
The Daily Mail has reported that the current Brexit uncertainty, and concomitant uncertainty about future immigration rules, has done nothing to curb migration into England. (Perhaps the uncertainty has fuelled it as people are seeking to get in before the doors are closed.) In the 12 months to September 2018 the net migration figure to Britain (immigrants – emigrants) was 283,000 people. Unless this net migration figure drops rapidly in the years ahead, then the 2016 British population of 55,268,000 would grow dramatically. By 2026, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has projected that the English population will have grown by six per cent to 58.5 million. However, this is assuming that the “principal” annual net migration rate for those years of 152,000 people is correct. As the Daily Mail notes, this is highly debateable: the last time that the net migration figure was that low was in the mid-1990s (before the Blair government threw open the migration doors).
Now, those low levels of net migration might be reached again, but the ONS’ “high” net migration estimate of 215,000 people per year seems more realistic, even if the high estimate is one-third lower than the actual net migration reached in 2017-18. Using this high migration figure then England’s population would be over 59.1 million in 2026 and would be over 60.2 million in 2029. This would represent a population increase of 9 per cent in the decade from 2016. This high migration figure would see London’s population increase to over 10 million in 2029.
While all of England would grow, the South East of the country and London would see the quickest growth. The question is whether that part of the country is prepared for this sustained, ongoing growth? What will people do, say and vote about high housing and rental prices, road congestion, shortage of school places and pressure on water and electricity supplies? In short, will immigration become a political issue once more (once everyone gets over the Brexit debacle). Of course, the Brexit debacle may very well prove to be instructive for politicians at Westminster: just because voters get upset and vote for something, does not mean that you have to do it! As long as enough politicians in the House of Commons think that high levels of migration to England is not a problem, then it doesn’t matter what the people think. They can always be ignored, can’t they?