London: Britain gained 333,000 people through immigration in 2015, a near-historic high, in figures that will fan the debate in Britain about newcomers ahead of a vote next month on whether the country should remain in the European Union. Campaigners for exit from the European Union say today’s Office for National Statistics figures prove that Britain can’t control immigration unless it quits the bloc. Citizens of the 28 EU nations can live and work in the other member states.
“You see the pressure on public services, you see the waiting lists in hospitals, in GP surgeries and of course in schools,” said former London Mayor Boris Johnson, the leading member of the “leave” camp. “People are feeling it and what they resent is the lack of control.”
Prime Minister David Cameron has long promised to reduce net migration below 100,000. His failure to do so gives ammunition to EU “leave” campaigners.
With less than a month to go before the vote, the figures also give the “leave” camp ample opportunity to attempt a change in the terms of the debate, which so far has revolved around dire warnings of the shock such an exit would have on the economy. Economists at the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of England, and several respected think tanks have uniformly warned that the leaving the single market could lead hit people hard and may lead to a recession.
The “leave” camp have thus far responded by attempting to turn the debate toward the more populist theme of sovereignty. Johnson at one point compared the EU’s aims to those of Adolf Hitler, arguing that the bloc wants to create a superstate that mirrors the Nazi leader’s attempt to dominate the European continent.
That apparently was too much for the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. Though he’s been cautious about weighing in so far, Juncker today suggested that Johnson had gone too far in his claims that Britain would be better off outside the European Union.
Speaking at a G-7 summit in Japan, Juncker noted that Johnson had spent time as a Brussels-based journalist and that he should return to check “if everything he is telling the British people is in line with reality, I do not think so.” The government, meanwhile, urged people to be realistic. James Brokenshire, the immigration minister, stressed that there are no easy solutions regardless of whether Britain stays or goes.