The UK Statistics Authority have written a letter to the Office for National Statistics calling for clarity on immigration numbers, citing a “speculation about the quality” of the migration figures the ONS is pumping out. Other than painting an amusing picture of statisticians having a punch up, this story adds another angle to the whole Brexit debate. There is the subtext in the Telegraph article breaking the tale that the ONS and other official bodies may be trying to downplay immigration numbers.
The British public deserves to hear the whole truth regarding immigration into this country. That would include transparency in terms of the stats (the brouhaha between the UKSA and the ONS revolves around a discrepancy between the official immigration numbers and the amount of NI numbers released to foreign-born nationals) – but it should also include a straight up account of the net benefit we get from migrants in terms of GDP. Let’s talk about all of the costs and all of the benefits as transparently as possible, in other words.
While we’re at it, we could discuss something the Brexiteers don’t like to talk about, namely the actual effect that Brexit would have on the raw immigration figures themselves. Because if the country votes to leave the EU on June 23rd, the most likely scenario is that migration into Britain won’t actually change in the slightest from what it would have been had we stayed in.
Immigration from outside of the EU obviously wouldn’t be directly affected by the result of the referendum, so let’s focus on immigration from EU countries, which we are told by Leave campaigners would drop significantly if we left the European Union. However, given the most likely result if we vote to Leave would be a deal involving staying in the EEA, that means in all probability that leaving the EU would have no affect whatsoever on immigration from EU countries given we’d still be following the exact same freedom of movement rules. Although I’m starting to hear about this more often now, it took some time for this fact to even be discussed – and I can’t say I’m hearing a lot about how Brexit won’t affect immigration numbers from the Leave camp even these days.
If the referendum debate is really one about sovereignty, then let’s argue on that basis. We should leave immigration out of it. Given that isn’t likely, we should demand the truth from the guardians of the statistics – the whole truth.