MigrationWatch’s 70 million cap proposal is dangerous and unfeasible

The e-petition launched by MigrationWatch this week has stirred up anger and fear among those who advocate immigration policies fit for the 21st century. Here are three reasons to disagree with the proposals in this petition.

The new e-petition masterminded by MigrationWatch and reported on across this week's newspapers may be in-step with a proportion of public opinion, but will provoke heated debate. The petition argues that ‘mass immigration’ has been permitted, contributing to the Office of National Statistics’s predictions that the UK population will hit 70 million within 20 years.

It calls for the government to:

“Take all necessary steps to get immigration down to a level that will stabilize our population as close to the present level as possible and, certainly, well below 70 million.”

The intention is that 100,000 signatures will be gathered, potentially provoking a debate in parliament on the issue in the near future. Here are three reasons why we disagree with the assertions made in the MigrationWatch petition:

1) The UK should avoid introducing a population policy by stealth

Historic and contemporary attempts to control population size in countries across the world, from mandatory birth control to experimental eugenics, have been highly controversial. One lesson that most politicians have learned is that attempting to control population levels is often asking for trouble. The UK currently does not have a policy on what a desirable, or undesirable, population level should be – and rightly so, because history has taught us that this can be dangerous ground indeed.

So calls for a UK population ceiling of 70 million are extremely problematic. Basic economics tells us that there is simply no inherent reason why having a population of 70 million would be any better, or worse, for the UK than the current population of 62 million.

The test of a population size is in how resources are distributed across the population – and with a growing gap between rich and poor in the UK there are quite some issues to address already here. Calls to slash immigration should not be a way of side-stepping bigger questions about the well-being of our society, whatever size the population is.

2) Immigration cannot be switched on and off at the push of a button

Although it has not advocated a population limit of 70 million, the coalition government has had the explicit aim of reducing net migration to the UK since May 2010. One year and a half on, despite a host of restrictive measures including the cap on economic migration, net immigration levels  have risen by 21% in 2009 to hit 239,000 in 2010.

The MigrationWatch e-petition calls for ‘all necessary steps’ to reduce immigration levels, towards a drop in population growth – but what would this actually mean in practice? In fact, there aren’t many tools left in the policy box that are not already being employed towards the goal of cutting net migration levels.

The latest batch of ONS immigration statistics showed that net immigration levels in 2010 were largely a story of declining emigration, rather than a surge in immigration. The UK also saw an increase in net migration from Eastern Europe – again largely due to a drop in European nationals leaving the UK. Due to freedom of movement, migration within the EU cannot be curbed without effectively rewriting the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

The message is that immigration levels are subject to huge fluctuation, and policy-makers are simply limited in what they can do to control them.

3) Immigration will continue to be a necessary part of the UK’s future

The MigrationWatch petition paints a bleak picture of recent immigration, as compromising “our quality of life” and putting pressure “on our public services”. But immigration to the UK over past decades has played a significant role in stimulating economic growth, generating tax revenue and powering the development of our public services. Evidence indicates that the fiscal impact of immigration has been positive, with East European immigration in particular making a positive contribution to the public purse despite an overall budget deficit in the UK.

More than this, looking into the future there is no way around it: immigration will continue to be critical. Universitiesbusinesses and public service providers have been vocally protesting against ongoing cuts to immigration levels, which they argue will have devastating economic impacts on them and, more widely, to economic recovery in the UK. With immigration worth billions to the UK, policies which enable migrant workers, students, families, and others to come here must continue to play a key role into the future.

Ultimately, there is every reason why immigration policies should be carefully reviewed in terms of their impact on communities and migrants themselves in the UK. But the messages coming from MigrationWatch seem more likely to whip up fears about immigration and population levels than to really move towards an immigration policy fit for the future.

This article was first published on the Left Foot Forward blogsite, on Tuesday 1st November.

Here is a video by a leading architect Karl Sharro on population growth from the TEDxEastEnd conference MRN hosted back in September 2011.

Other users went on to read:


Wow, this MigrationWatch idea is well out of step with reality. Removing all immigration wouldn't solve this problem - but then again, what is MigrationWatch's term for immigrant? Is it a person who isn't a British Citizen? Is it a person who might be a British Citizen but has lived outside the country for x number of years? If you stop all immigration (and please explain to me how that would be possible outside of building a wall around the island and not letting anyone in) then what happens when you reach 70 million anyway? Would you, I don't know, start going after people in order of their arrival before you built the wall around the island?

Once again we're seeing (much like the EU referendum plea) island mentality. People not understanding our connectedness with the outside world nor understanding the impact of what would happen if we told the rest of the world to take a hike.

Government issued studies have shown over and over how immigrants add to the economy and bring new and exciting ideas to make the UK a better place. Yet more restrictions get enforced and less people want to come. I worry for the UK's future. If we continue to work in this withdrawal pattern then where will we be globally in 20 years? Not at 70 million, no way. Anyone with common sense would've fled to the USA, Australia, Canada, or New Zealand!

An organisation which exists to help immigrants does not like the idea of fewer immigrants. Are we meant to be surprised or persuaded?

And by the way, your attempt to switch attention from immigration to ineqality of income ignores the fact that - as groups such as you often argue - immigrants are more likely to be unemployed and "in poverty". So it follows that lower levels of immigration will lead to greater equality and fewer people in poverty.

It simply isn't feasible to impose an arbitrary population cap (70 million or whatever) on migration.

It's also just not humane.

Too many people in the world live under repressive, hideous regimes and are tortured and violated in their own countries; we need to provide a safe haven to these people if they manage to make it to our shores.

As it is we treat asylum seekers badly and their experience of being here is not what they have a right to expect - read the terrible catalogue of 'accidental' deaths, murders and suicides since 1995 on the IRR website (thank you for collating this chilling information - we all need to know what is happening).

The issue we need to focus on is how to have a compassionate response to people who approach us for asylum because they are in very real need. If we accept this need is real - and in many many cases it is, we have no doubt - then we simply can't turn people away on the basis of arbitrary quotas or caps.

To Anonymous: if you take the trouble to read the petition properly it is not calling for all immigration to be stopped and the petition recognises that controlled immigration benefits the country. It is the sheer scale of immigration that the 108,000 people who have so far signed the petition, are objecting to.

yes, stop immigration. What a great idea. I'm sure this petition has nothing to do with blackmailing certain politicians by way of reminding them of the mood of the bloodthirsty "public" which wants something to be done (and something can be anything as long as it's nasty).
What do we do next is the real question. This might run for a long time...

@Anonymous 7 November.

Clever idea to eliminate inequality - we simple strangle all the people who live on incomes which place them in the grossly unequal bracket and there'll be less inequality... I've a feeling there might be a flaw in this argument but the life of me I can't think what it might be......

@Julie Oh, and this isn't a petition to stop immigration? I believe that is just another way to put that idea forward. Outside of killing our own, which isn't going to happen, in order to keep under 70 million what should we do? Tell people to stop procreating? Enforce sterilization? Stop allowing certain diseases to be treated? Refuse to fix roads and transport systems, cap housing, revert to communism?

Or perhaps we force out people who don't fit some arbitrary rule system using their foreign status as a means by which to exploit them. We'll call that immigration control!

By all means, if you have a 16-year plan to reduce population numbers without enforcing some means of deportation, exploitation, violence, or violation on another group of people I am all ears.

so! all you goody! goody! leftys; what about the enviroment; are we to turn britain into a concrete island in the name of a few shortsighted do gooders like you?? what do you think about that / or is it because most of you twats! have a business of some kind? and only care for the economic benefits and not much else.

how dare you condone the destruction of our country in the name of your own self rightous opinions; what do you think that we live in some vast! continent or something?? do me a favour: shut!! up! and stop trying tell the majority of sensible brits, what they don't need to hear. go away for twenty years , then come back and see just what destruction to britain would occur, if people where to listen to idiots like you - who have contributed to this mess in the first place. I rest my case.

The majority of immigrants are here because of lack of opportunity,fear of repression and economic deprivation in their own countries. With an ageing population in the UK and poor recognition of the need for hard effort to gain a useful education among many of our young people and sadly their parents, the influx of aspirational and potentially economically beneficial immigrants is to be welcomed. As a retired teacher I am appalled at the low level of education attained by a large proportion of our rather lazy youth and equally impressed by the efforts of the children of immigrant families to reach their potential.
We cannot compete in the world without skilled and educated workers and we should take note of countries like Japan,China and Germany where such values are promoted, as they are among the families of many immigrants. I'm afraid the previous poster only reinforces my view of the educational malaise our home grown population accepts as adequate.