Conservative claim about immigration under Labour is not credible

16 November 2019
What was claimed

Labour’s freedom of movement plan could increase net migration to 840,000 a year.

Our verdict

Labour hasn’t published its manifesto yet, and the methods used to reach this number are not credible.

“Under Jeremy Corbyn’s plan for unlimited and uncontrolled immigration, [net migration] could increase to over 840,000 people… coming to the UK every single year.”

Conservative party, 14 November 2019

Labour hasn’t published its manifesto yet, so the Conservatives can’t know what its policy is. On top of this, the methods the Conservatives used to reach this number are not credible.

Labour’s policy isn’t confirmed

Back in September, the Labour conference approved a proposal to “maintain and extend free movement rights”. As we said at the time, this does not make it official party policy. We don’t know what will be adopted in Labour’s manifesto, or how an immigration policy to extend free movement would be implemented in practice.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott was quoted at the time saying Labour’s conference motion would become part of the party’s plans for government, though in an interview with the BBC this week, Jeremy Corbyn signalled the priority was to secure free movement “for those that have legitimate settled status in the UK, that is family reunion”.

He also said that the case of free movement already enjoyed by EU citizens “depends on the ultimate outcome of the EU [Brexit] negotiations” Labour wants to undertake if it wins the election.

The research behind this figure is not credible

The Conservatives’ figure refers to “net migration”—how many more people immigrate to the UK in a year than emigrate out—rather than immigration. Net migration is currently estimated at 226,000 a year, but it’s a somewhat uncertain figure and work is ongoing to improve those estimates.

The Conservatives have published a paper setting out the methods behind their calculation.

The methodology makes extreme assumptions about both what Labour’s policy would be and the consequences of it.

The core assumptions behind it are that Labour wants to extend complete freedom of movement to the entire world, and that the resulting level of immigration from this policy is based off historical comparisons with what happened in 2004 and 2013, when a number of central and eastern European countries gained full free movement rights within the EU. 

The Conservatives say that for “short-haul” countries just outside of Europe, immigration to the UK would increase the UK population at a similar scale as the historical average for new EU members. For “long haul” countries further afield, they’ve used the EU country with the smallest impact on the UK population in the years they’ve analysed—Hungary.

So in essence, this assumes that if the UK allowed global free movement, the impact on the UK population would be the same proportion as Hungary had in the five years from 2004. Estimates suggest the Hungarian-born population in the UK rose by roughly 80% over that period.

There is no evidence to suggest this assumption is realistic.

It also doesn’t acknowledge a range of other factors that will play a part in determining levels of future immigration to the UK, like countries’ relative economic strength, language and cultural connections, and other aspects of migration policy.

It’s reasonable to assume that extending free movement (currently only available to EU nationals while the UK remains an EU member) in isolation would lead to increased immigration compared to the status quo. But again, we won’t know to what extent that is an accurate representation of Labour policy until their manifesto is out.

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