Exclusive: Cameron ‘misleading’ on immigration figures

By Aled Thomas

David Cameron has been accused of misleading the public on immigration in the TV leaders’ debate last night.

The Conservative leader said of net immigration: “It’s been as often as high as 200,000, that’s equivalent to two million plus across the decade.”

But the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants told politics.co.uk that figure is “unfounded and misleading”.

The council’s chief executive Habin Rahman said: “David Cameron is well aware that migration is falling dramatically. The real trend is thousands of workers are leaving Britain because of the recession and global financial crisis.

“Migration has only topped 200,000 during three years in living memory – largely on account of the enlargement of the European Union. Britain has never seen migration of two million people in a single decade.”

Figures provided by the council show that net immigration fell by a third to 163,000 in 2008. Of those entering the country in 2008, 85,000 were British citizens returning home.

Mr Rahman added: “The misrepresentation of migration figures has very serious consequences. It can only create fear – leading to racism and further support for rightwing extremists.”

In response a spokesman for the Conservative party said: “2008 is the most recent year for which figures are available. In the decade 1998-2008, the highest level of annual net immigration was 245,000, in 2004.

“The lowest was 140,000 in 1998. Net migration was more than 200,000 in 2004, 2005 and 2007, and the sum of annual net migration across the decade – is roughly two million.”

He added: “Net migration levels before 1997 were never greater than 77,000 a year.”

A Labour spokesperson called Tory plans for of an immigration cap “half baked” and warned they would “damage the British economy”.

“The Conservatives propose an arbitrary quota on immigration that would not give us the flexibility to respond quickly to changing economic circumstance and risks damaging the British economy,” a spokesman added.

Baroness Jo Valentine, London First’s chief executive, said the Tories’ plans had “no logic at all” and would damage London’s economy.

The JCWI says immigrants contributed £41 billion in tax in 2003 and are necessary to help maintain economic growth.

It has launched a campaign called I Love Migrants to highlight what it says are the benefits to the UK of immigration.

Figures in the Office of National Statistics (ONS) long-term international migration statistics say that the net figures for immigration, including European economic Area citizens were:

2008 – 163,000

2007 – 233,000

2006 – 207,000

2005 – 206,000

2004 – 245,000

2003 – 148,000

2002 – 153,000

2001 – 172,000

2000 – 158, 000

1999 – 163, 000

The total, according to the ONS of net immigration to the UK in the ten years to 2008 is 1.848 million.