Photographer: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

U.K. Net Migration Hits Near-Record Before Brexit Vote

  • Figure reaches 335,000 in the 12 months through June, ONS says
  • Immigration from EU climbs to record 284,000 during period

Net migration to the U.K. rose to a near-record in the year prior to the Brexit vote.

Those arriving to live or study for a minimum of one year outnumbered those leaving by 335,000 in the 12 months through June, the Office for National Statistics in London said on Thursday. That compared with 326,000 in the year through March and was just off the all-time-high 336,000 seen a year ago. Net migration from other European Union nations hit a record 189,000.

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“It is too early to say what effect, if any, the EU referendum has had on long-term international migration,” Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS, said in a statement. “There does not, however, appear to have been any significant impact during the run-up to the vote.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has made controlling immigration a key priority after Britons voted to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum, provoking a backlash from businesses in industries from agriculture to hospitality that depend on foreign workers.  

As her government prepares to trigger two years of formal departure talks by the end of March, May has reiterated a pledge made by her predecessor, David Cameron, to reduce annual net migration to below 100,000. The figures rose over the course of Cameron’s premiership, when May was in charge of immigration policy as home secretary.

The U.K. Independence Party, which campaigned to get Britain out of the EU, seized on the latest report to call for a “clean” Brexit as soon as possible.

‘Abject Failure’

“This is an abject failure not just by the government in general but by the prime minister in particular, ” newly elected UKIP leader Paul Nuttall said. “You can’t trust the Tories to bring down immigration.”
 
The figures came as the government was forced to defend reported comments from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to EU diplomats that he personally is in favor of free movement of people from the bloc. Opposition lawmakers said the revelation provided further evidence of disunity within the Conservative government as it prepares for Brexit talks.

There were increases in both immigration and emigration in the year through June. Immigration from the EU rose to a record 284,000, just 5,000 below the inflow from non-EU nations. Arrivals from Bulgaria and Romania accounted for a quarter, continuing the “upward trend” seen in recent years.

“Romania was the most common country of previous residence,” White said. “The main reason people are coming to the U.K. is for work, and there has been a significant increase in people looking for work particularly from the EU.” The period also saw an increase in the number of asylum seekers and refugees.

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