What even is 'normality' for annual net migration?

Published: 7th Apr 2015

"We will aim to bring immigration in this country back to normality …up until 1998, we had between 20,000 and 50,000, perhaps an average of 30,000 people a year (net) coming to Britain"—Nigel Farage, 15 April 2015

Nigel Farage ended the UKIP manifesto launch with this claim. In recent weeks, this has become a staple for the UKIP leader in one form or another, harking back to an age of 'normality':

"Can we get some sense of history? If you go back even to the 1990s, from 1990 up until 1998, net migration as a measure into Britain was about 40,000 a year. In the '80s it was lower than that. In the '50s it was slightly higher than that. The point is this: since World War II, we've operated with net migration into Britain at an average of about 30,000 a year"—Nigel Farage, 2 April 2015

There are two main claims about 'normality' here: that average annual net migration to the UK between 1990 and 1997 was about 40,000, and that since the 1950s the UK has seen an average annual net migration figure of 30,000.

While the first requires some context, the second claim actually overstates annual net migration.

Claim 1: Migration in the 1990s

Migration figures vary substantially year on year. The annual net migration numbers between 1990 and 1997 were no different—as low as 13,000 and as high as 77,000, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. But the average annual net migration figure for this period is indeed almost exactly 40,000.

Throughout that period, annual net migration rose and fell in different years. So while an average can be produced, to state that it's typical for any one year simplifies this detail. There's also substantial uncertainty in annual net migration figures, as we've pointed out before.

Claim 2: Migration since the 1950s

The accuracy of this claim depends on whether you're looking at migration from the 1950s and now, or from then until the end of 'normality'—by Mr Farage's reckoning—around the turn of the century. Between 1951 and 2001, average annual net migration was 7,800, according to census data.

So if anything, Mr Farage overstates historical levels of net migration for the 'normal' period.


But if we go beyond Mr Farage's described period of 'normality' to include 2001-2010, the average jumps to almost 40,000 and goes some way to clarifying where the UKIP leader is getting his claim from.

Mr Farage's comments oversimplify the history of immigration to the UK, which has varied a lot. For further details about migration, see our briefing on the subject.


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