Leave camp’s “Australian system” won’t hit migration target

by Hugo Dixon | 10.06.2016

Myth: An “Australian system” could bring migration down to the tens of thousands

InFact: Net migration from outside the EU is already 188,000. This is just one of six reasons why Vote Leave is misleading voters by saying it would cut net migration to tens of thousands.

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Michael Gove has repeated David Cameron’s goal of cutting net migration to tens of thousands of people a year. And, like the prime minister, Vote Leave’s campaign chair is promising things he cannot deliver.

Gove told Robert Peston on ITV: “We would, in due course, bring it [net migration] down to the tens of thousands” – though, like Cameron, he left himself some wiggle room by adding “I wouldn’t set a time limit for it”.

If Vote Leave sticks to its “Australian-style” migration policy, net migration is unlikely to fall much from the 333,000 it hit last year. Here’s why:

  1. Net migration from outside the EU is already 188,000.
  2. Vote Leave says it wants more migrants from outside the EU and the system for admitting them will be “much less bureaucratic and much simpler than the existing system”. So the base number has to be north of 188,000.
  3. Vote Leave also says it wants EU migration to be managed on the same basis as non-EU migration. That means it won’t fall to zero.
  4. If we make it illegal for many EU migrants to come here, some will still come illegally. They won’t pay taxes, as they do now. They will work in the black market, undercutting our workers’ wages.
  5. It will be easy for illegal EU migrants to come because Vote Leave also says it won’t introduce border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. So EU citizens will be free to travel to Ireland and then cross to Northern Ireland, before hopping over to Britain. Even if we find and deport  illegal migrants (which is not easy), they will be able to take the next Ryanair to Dublin and return to the UK without us having any way to spot them.
  6. If we stop the free movement of EU citizens to the UK, the rest of the EU will  stop free movement by Brits to the Continent. So the outflow of UK citizens will fall.

Put all these factors together and it is clear that the numbers wouldn’t fall much. The only way Brexit could achieve that is by trashing the economy so badly that few people will want to come here.

This article is an adaptation of a piece that previously appeared on InFacts.