Speaking to the Confederation of British Industry, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said the free movement of people should continue after Brexit.
He has also proposed that the UK’s non-EU immigration rules be loosened – for instance through a lengthening of current post-study work arrangements for international students.
In the Mayor’s words: “It’s time for us to stand up and make the case for the freedom of movement of people and the benefits it has brought to our economy… We also need a system that makes it easier – not harder – to bring in the people from around the world who can help grow our prosperity and create more wealth, jobs and opportunities.”
Mr Khan’s approach is not the right one. The public believe the current rate of net migration, which is driving the fastest population growth since the 1940s, is unsustainable. Indeed, 2017 YouGov polling suggests that 61% of London residents wish to see immigration rules tightened while a majority of London residents support a significant reduction in levels of immigration.
The Labour Party recognised the need for a new post-Brexit approach in its 2017 General Election manifesto with the words: “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the EU.”
So Mr Khan’s approach contradicts his own party’s manifesto. Moreover, our analysis suggests that the continuation of freedom of movement after Brexit would likely lead to ongoing net EU migration of more than 100,000 a year in the medium term.
Nearly a quarter of all net migration to the UK has gone to London over the past decade, even though the Capital’s population is just under 14% of the total. London’s population is projected to grow to over 10 million by 2030. Such growth would entirely be down to immigration. It’s no wonder that 73% of those surveyed in a 2016 YouGov poll said they felt London was either very or fairly crowded.
Such growth would put more pressure on schools, GP services and housing stock, as well as on London’s already congested tube, bus and rail networks.
The total number of passengers on the London Underground rose from 800 million a year in 2002 to 1.3 billion a year in 2016. A senior manager has warned that overcrowding was threatening to make parts of the network ‘inoperable’ by 2031. Some tube stations, such as Victoria, already have to be closed at peak times to prevent accidents.
Immigration is also a significant factor in adding to the acute demand for homes, which is exacerbating the housing crisis.
And in a city where the share of births to non-UK born mothers is just under 60% (and exceeds three-quarters in Brent and Newham), at least one in five secondary schools is already full or oversubscribed making them the most overcrowded schools in the country. Figures from the FindASchool website suggest that, in some boroughs such as Greenwich, Kensington and Chelsea and Lewisham, 80% of schools may lack enough places to meet demand.
High net migration also puts pressure on London’s NHS. According to ONS figures, there were nearly 250,000 new migrant GP registrations in London in 2015/16 – the highest number in the Capital for at least a decade.
Indeed, if the Mayor had his way, a large portion of the additional homes, GP provision and school places needed over the next five to ten years would be for those who are not even here yet.
Another legitimate question is where the necessary new schools and hospitals would go or how they would be paid for at a time when the government seeks to close the budget deficit.
The Mayor’s proposals would lead to continued and possibly increased levels of net migration at a time when it is more imperative than ever that inflows be reduced.
A much better proposal is Migration Watch UK’s suggestion for expanding the system of highly-skilled work permits to EU migrants while reducing the vast number of arrivals by those who end up working in lower-skilled roles.
This would both allow British business to continue to be able to recruit the best and brightest from across Europe but also likely lead to a reduction in net migration of about 100,000 a year.
The years since the 2008 Economic Crash have seen productivity stagnate at the same time as the UK employers’ use of migrant labour has continued to an all-time high. Mr Khan is of course right to say that we need the country to prosper. But a better way to ensure that would be to address the UK’s dismal productivity record by encouraging employers both to invest in technology and offer higher wages and better training to potential job applicants who are already in the UK.