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Net migration plummets after Brexit vote

3 min read

Net migration fell by more than 100,000 in the year since the Brexit vote as tens of thousands of EU nationals left the UK, the Office for National Statistics has said.

The fall was most pronounced among citizens of European Union countries, who made up around three quarters of the 106,000 drop.

The number of EU nationals leaving the UK increased dramatically from the year ending in June 2016 - from 28,000 to 123,000.

Overall more people were still entering the country than leaving it, but the net immigration figure fell from 336,000 in the year ending June 2016 to 230,000 - still well short of the "tens of thousands" first promised by David Cameron when he was prime minister.

The number of EU nationals who moved to Britain in the year after the vote also stands at 230,000, down from 284,000 the year before.

Meanwhile the number of non-EU nationals arriving fell from 291,000 to 263,000.


The head of migration statistics at the ONS, Nicola White, said Brexit was “likely” to be a factor in people choosing to quit the UK.

However she said it remained “too early” to tell if such a fall would be a long term trend, given the fall is merely a return to around 2014 levels.

“The decline follows historically high levels of immigration and it is too early to say whether this represents a long-term trend," she said.

“The number of people immigrating for a definite job has remained stable but there has been a 43% decrease in the number of people immigrating to look for work over the last year, especially for EU citizens.

“These changes suggest that Brexit is likely to be a factor in people's decision to move to or from the UK - but decisions to migrate are complex and other factors are also going to be influencing the figures.”

The figures also show that fewer people came to the UK ‘looking for work’ - down 43% to 74,000.

Professor Jonathan Portes, a former chief economist for the Cabinet Office and senior fellow of  the UK in a Changing Europe thinktank, said the fall in applications for National Insurance numbers represented "a better and more timely measure of those arriving here specifically to work". 

“These are down 13% in the year to September, led by a fall of almost a quarter in registrations from the “EU8” countries who joined the EU in 2004," he said.

“Whatever your views on the impact of immigration, it cannot be good news that the UK is a less attractive place to live and work, and that we will be poorer as a result.

“If the Government wants to make Brexit a success, it needs to reverse this.”

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the figures represented another “failure” from the Government to meet their own 100,000 net migration target.

"This isn't a genuine policy, but allows a permanent campaign against migrants and migration,” she said.

“The Tories’ chaotic mishandling of the Brexit negotiations has already seen many sectors experiencing severe staff shortages, including the NHS and social care.

"It is time to drop this meaningless target.”

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