Some extraordinary figures about population growth were published on Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics, though they attracted very little comment from the BBC or much of the mainstream media.
Between 2011 and 2021, the population of England and Wales grew by a staggering 3.5 million, or about 6.6 per cent. Since during this period net migration was usually running at over 200,000 a year, and occasionally at more than 300,000, the main cause of the rapid expansion isn’t hard to fathom.
Most of the population growth took place in the South-East, parts of London (up 22.1 per cent in Tower Hamlets, though there was a 9.6 per cent decline in Kensington and Chelsea) and Eastern England, where it rose by a whopping 8.3 per cent.
Imagine a city the size of Nottingham. Then one as big as Bristol. Add Birmingham. Then Manchester and Liverpool. Pop in Sheffield while you are at it. The combined population of these great cities roughly equates to the increase in the population of England and Wales that has taken place during a mere ten years.
Is it any wonder that vast tracts of the country, particularly in the already congested South and East, are being built and Tarmac-ed over to accommodate a surge in population growth, most of it driven by immigration?
The Government is very exercised about the number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats. The wonder, though, is that so much time and energy are spent debating about asylum seekers while few people have noticed the growing numbers of legal migrants that are arriving in this country
Should we be surprised by the dire shortage of houses when, according to the excellent MigrationWatch whose forensic analysis is unparalleled, at least half the demand for new homes is accounted for by immigration?
Nor need we look very far to explain the pressure on schools, hospitals and GP surgeries which millions of us have experienced first-hand in most parts of the country. The decade that saw a population increase of 6.6 per cent was also a decade of austerity and government cutbacks.
Some people may say that I am referring to the pre-Brexit past. One of the main purposes of leaving the European Union was to get back control of our borders so that immigration could be regulated and controlled.
Yes, we have indeed ‘taken back control’. The Government is in charge of our borders. But although there are no authoritative up-to-date figures, partly due to the pandemic, it is possible, if not likely, that immigration is running at near record levels.
In the year ending June 2021, net migration — i.e. the difference between those leaving the country and those arriving — was 239,000. That number was probably slightly limited by the effects of Covid. Nevertheless, it was still higher than the net migration figure for 2012 or 2013.
We won’t know the Office for National Statistics net migration figure for the 12 months ending June 2022 until later in the year, but it is a fair bet that it will be considerably higher than that of a year ago.
According to separate Home Office statistics, visas were handed out in profusion in 2021 — 432,279 for students, 280,776 for family visas and 239,987 for work. Overall, EU migration has declined sharply as a proportion of the whole since Brexit, while non-EU migration has risen very significantly.
What strikes me as odd is that there has been almost no public discussion about apparently soaring levels of legal immigration, given that before the EU referendum in 2016 there was so much agonising over the issue.
By contrast, the Government is very exercised about the number of asylum seekers crossing the Channel in small boats, and plans to send some of them to Rwanda if it is able to face down the interfering European Court of Human Rights, and persuade our own judges that it is not inhumane to transport them.
The Government is, of course, right to be concerned by cross-Channel migration. The numbers are by no means insignificant: 28,526 people are known to have crossed in small boats last year, and there could be as many as 50,000 this year.
Meanwhile, our universities, some of which are extremely mediocre, are doing their utmost to attract as many foreign students as possible, more than a quarter of whom are Chinese
Moreover, this is an evil trade orchestrated by ruthless people-smugglers who, by putting asylum seekers in unseaworthy boats, expose them to the risk of capsizing and drowning.
So it is a big issue. The wonder, though, is that so much time and energy are spent debating about asylum seekers while few people have noticed the growing numbers of legal migrants that are arriving in this country.
These are certain to put further pressure on our already crumbling public services, as well as housing, where the Government seems unlikely to meet its manifesto target of building an additional 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
I naturally don’t dispute that there are labour shortages which foreign, increasingly non-EU, workers are happy to fill. Despite some Remainer-inspired propaganda, under the Government’s new points-based system it is easy for employers to recruit workers abroad for jobs that are relatively poorly paid.
Meanwhile, our universities, some of which are extremely mediocre, are doing their utmost to attract as many foreign students as possible, more than a quarter of whom are Chinese.
The business model of these reputed centres of learning relies on their attracting many thousands of students from abroad. Believe it or not, about 30 per cent of students at one university, namely Liverpool, are Chinese.
But what may be good for businesses happy to recruit industrious foreign workers, or for universities dependent on students from abroad, is not necessarily in the best interests of our already overcrowded island.
If net migration exceeds pre-Brexit levels over the next few years, as it seems on course to do, there may be hell to pay with voters
In many parts of England, people are fed up with overstretched, underfunded public services, and they don’t want to see further swathes of their neighbourhoods concreted over.
In particular, the Government has seemingly given up on people who, while not officially categorised as being unemployed despite often receiving welfare payments, could be encouraged back into the labour market through a judicious combination of carrot and stick. There are reckoned to be several million of them.
But it is much easier for employers to dip into the limitless pool of ambitious and industrious workers who will cheerfully cross the world for a decent, though not necessarily very well-paid, job than it is to attract the long-term underemployed.
Four days after the June 2016 referendum, a prominent politician doubted in his newspaper column whether ‘those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration’. It was, of course, Boris Johnson.
If he was attempting to play down the importance to many Leave voters of regaining control of our own borders, I fear that he was much mistaken, possibly fatally so.
Would it be too cynical to suggest that the Government welcomes the kind of displacement that is taking place? People are encouraged to believe that it is grappling with the problem of the Channel crossings while it is, in fact, ignoring the more alarming wider picture.
The Government may be able to get away with it for a while, but sooner or later what is really happening will begin to sink in. If net migration exceeds pre-Brexit levels over the next few years, as it seems on course to do, there may be hell to pay with voters.
Many of them will reasonably ask: what was the point of taking back control if we end up with something worse than we had before?