Conservative estimate that UK would take 100,000 migrants a year under Labour plan is not reliable

20 September 2023
What was claimed

Labour has pledged to open Britain’s borders to 100,000 more migrants each year.

Our verdict

This is misleading. The 100,000 figure is a Conservative party estimate which is not reliable, because it makes several assumptions and appears to misinterpret a recent EU agreement on relocating asylum seekers. We don’t know how many migrants the UK might take under a future returns deal with the EU—Labour has not said what such a deal would involve, or how many migrants it would accept.

After Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told The Times on 14 September that his party would seek a migrant returns agreement with the EU, the Conservative party has repeatedly claimed this would mean the UK taking “100,000 migrants” a year.

A Conservative party post on X (formerly Twitter) with two million views said: “Labour have pledged to open Britain's borders to 100,000 more migrants. Arriving each and every year.” 

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick claimed “Britain will be forced to take more than 100,000 illegal migrants from the safety of Europe each year”, while Conservative party chairman Greg Hands referred to “Labour’s plan to take 100,000 migrants from the EU”. Henry Smith MP posted on X: “Speaking from the EU today, party leader Keir Starmer said, if in government they would agree for the UK to take over 100,000 asylum seekers a year as part of a European redistribution quota deal.”

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has used the same figure in a more cautious way, claiming Mr Starmer’s plans “seem to amount to saying that we might one day accept 100,000 EU migrants every year”.

Claims that Labour has pledged or announced plans to take 100,000 migrants from the EU are misleading, because we don’t know how many more migrants might come to the UK as a result of any future returns deal negotiated under Labour. Labour has not detailed what such a deal would involve or said how many migrants it would be willing to accept.

The 100,000 figure is a Conservative party estimate, and is not reliable. It is based on a number of assumptions about a hypothetical returns agreement, including that the UK would be part of an EU quota system even though it is not in the EU, that the UK would be “forced” to relocate migrants rather than contribute financially (as is an option for EU member states), and that the quota system would relocate all asylum applicants arriving in the EU among member states. 

Misleading claims about politicians or political parties have the potential to affect people’s opinions of individuals and parties and how they choose to vote. Political parties should therefore ensure claims they make about their opponents are accurate and based on reliable information. If a misleading claim originates from a party, it is the responsibility of that party to ensure that both it and its members don't continue to share or repeat the claim.

Honesty in public debate matters

You can help us take action – and get our regular free email

Where does the 100,000 figure come from?

The Conservative party confirmed to Full Fact its estimate is based on a new agreement established by the EU earlier this year for the relocation of asylum seekers, in an effort to ease the pressure on member states receiving large numbers of asylum seekers, like Italy and Greece.

The Conservative analysis assumes that under EU rules Labour’s plan would require the UK to take a share of the EU’s migrant quota. It claims that under the new agreement, which the EU calls the “solidarity mechanism”, the UK, like member states, would have to accept a number of asylum seekers each year proportionate to its population and economic size.

It says that because the UK’s population of approximately 67 million accounts for 12.9% of the combined population of the EU and the UK, Labour’s approach would mean in 2022 the UK would have had to accept a “mandatory fair share” of 12.9% of the 966,000 asylum applications registered in 2022, or “124,614 illegal migrants”.

Assumptions behind the estimate

The Conservative calculation relies on a number of assumptions.

Most obviously, it assumes a returns agreement negotiated between the UK and EU by a future Labour government would involve the UK participating in the relocation scheme currently being drawn up between EU member states. As the UK is no longer in the EU, it’s unclear how this would happen, and Labour has since explicitly denied it would join an EU quota scheme, with Mr Starmer telling Sky News on 17 September: “There is obviously an EU quota system for EU members. Well, it’s obvious we are not an EU member… we will not be part of that.” 

Even if the UK were to participate in the EU scheme, or one operating on a similar basis, the Conservative calculation appears to misinterpret what the agreement established in June would involve. 

Crucially, under the EU’s solidarity mechanism it will not be mandatory for member countries to accept any relocations—they can choose between accepting relocations or making a financial contribution of €20,000 per relocation they choose not to accept. So were the UK to participate in the mechanism, it would not be “forced” to accept any asylum seekers from the EU, as Mr Jenrick claimed.

And perhaps most significantly, the Conservative analysis assumes the EU solidarity mechanism would see all asylum seekers arriving in the EU relocated across the bloc, even though this is not what the EU’s new agreement appears to indicate.

How many migrants will the EU relocate?

Although the EU’s new returns agreement is still being finalised, with legislation still to be passed, the key measures were outlined in an 8 June press release. It stated the “minimum annual number for relocations” would be 30,000. An EU official also told Full Fact the agreement will see a minimum of 30,000 people relocated from member states where most asylum seekers enter the EU to ones that are “less exposed”.

This is the minimum number of asylum seekers to be relocated across the EU as a whole each year. It is “not a minimum number for relocation in each member state”, the EU official confirmed, though that is what was claimed in The Times’ interview with Mr Starmer, and also by other media outlets including the i and Sky News, the latter of which corrected its article after being contacted by Full Fact. (We also contacted The Times and the i and will update this fact check if we hear back.)

The EU says the 30,000 minimum could increase in the future and will be regularly reviewed, and the agreement explicitly states “the Commission may identify a higher number for relocations” if required—so it’s possible more than 30,000 migrants may be relocated across the EU each year. But as things stand the current minimum figure quoted in the plans suggests only a small proportion of asylum seekers arriving in the EU will be relocated, rather than all of them as the Conservatives’ calculation assumes.

Previous relocation schemes operated by the EU have similarly only involved a relatively small proportion of the total overall number of asylum seekers arriving in the EU.

An EU official also told us a report in The Times claiming that under the EU agreement “bigger and richer member states would have to accept up to 120,000 migrants per year” was wrong—we’ve also asked The Times about this.

It is correct as stated in the Conservative analysis that the share of relocated asylum seekers each member country will be asked to take will be based on the relative population size and GDP of that country, with each criteria given equal weighting (though the Conservative calculation was based on population only).

Susan Fratzke, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute Europe think tank, told Full Fact: “The EU proposals include a “solidarity pool” that would see a minimum of 30,000 relocated across the EU. These relocations would be spread out across member states according to a formula that would determine their capacity to take relocated arrivals.” 

What has Labour said?

The Conservative claim came in a response to Mr Starmer confirming to The Times last week that a Labour government would ultimately seek a returns agreement with the EU.

It reported: “Asked if he would be willing to accept the “quid pro quo” of migrant quotas in exchange for a deal, Starmer said: “That would be part of any discussions and negotiations with Europe.””

The Labour party has since rejected the Conservative party’s 100,000 figure, with Mr Starmer describing it as “complete garbage”.

Mr Starmer and other senior Labour figures have not indicated how many additional migrants they might be willing to accept under a returns scheme, however.

Full Fact has contacted Labour, the Conservatives and the MPs mentioned in this fact check for comment, and will update this article if we receive a response. Mr Jenrick’s office did not offer comment.

Image courtesy of Alamy

We deserve better than bad information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted Conservative party chairman Greg Hands to ask that he takes steps to ensure the claim does not continue to be repeated by the party or its members.

Mr Hands did not respond.

We also requested a correction in the Express and wrote to Rishi Sunak, Robert Jenrick, Penny Mordaunt, Mel Caulfield, Jonathan Gullis and Richard Holden to ask that they don't repeat this claim. All are yet to respond.

It’s not good enough.

Will you add your name for better standards in public debate?

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.