Onward research: Beyond the Net Migration Target

On Tuesday 16th July, we publish Onward’s latest paper, Beyond the Net Migration Target, by Will Tanner and Richard Chew.

The report argues that the new Prime Minister should replace the target with a new system of migration control that is properly accountable to Parliament and which forces every Whitehall department to set out their migration impact annually. Under the plans, this would be independently assessed by a new body, the Office for Migration Responsibility, to hold ministers to account for delivering on their own migration promises.

You can read the full report here  |  Tweet about the report here

Analysis for the report sets out the continued impact of net migration on the UK and the implications of the Government’s repeated failure to meet the “tens of thousands” pledge, first made in 2010:

  • Since the Net Migration Pledge was first made in 2010, immigration has never fallen below 177,000 in a single year. Last year, it stood at 253,000 per annum – the equivalent of adding a city the size of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the UK population in a single year.
  • Cumulative net migration between 2010 and 2018 was 1.4 million higher than it would have been if the Government had successfully limited net migration to the tens of thousands each year since it entered government.
  • It is not true that the public no longer want immigration reduced. Polling for Onward shows that people from age group, every ethnic minority group, and both Leave and Remain voters support reducing migration. Deltapoll found in 2018 that 73% think reducing immigration to the tens of thousand is right, compared to 15% wrong.

The report also argues that neither of the two Leadership contenders’ plans for immigration will lead to greater trust or more sustainable flows of migration without additional action. We argue that points-based systems, as proposed by Boris Johnson, are typically used explicitly to increase migration, while simply abolishing the net migration target with no alternative, as proposed by Jeremy Hunt, will release pressure on Whitehall without extra measures.

The report recommends a three point plan to replace the net migration plan:

  1. Every year, the Home Office should publish a detailed and long-term Sustainable Immigration Plan, setting out ministers’ objectives for the level and composition of migration across different routes. This should include a specific commitment to reduce low- and medium-skilled migration over time.
  2. This Plan should be presented to Parliament, in the same way as the Government’s plans for tax and spending. As with fiscal projections, every government department should have to set out the expected immigration impact from its policies, forcing Whitehall to confront trade offs and setting out transparently for MPs and the public how the government’s policies will affect migration flows.
  3. To keep ministers honest and give the public confidence, the Government should establish an Office for Migration Responsibility (OMR). This would provide an independent assessment of the impact of government forecasts and wider migration trends, echoing the success of the Office for Budget Responsibility which is now seen as the gold standard for driving fiscal prudence across government.

The report has been welcomed by the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and former Immigration Minister, and the Rt Hon Mark Harper MP, former Immigration Minister and Leadership contender.

Rt Hon Mark Harper MP, Former Immigration Minister, said:

“For far too long the public have thought, and quite rightly too, that our politicians do not have their hands on the wheel when it comes to immigration policy. This has to change, and as we leave the EU we will regain the ability to shape a migration policy that can control immigration from wherever in the world it comes. I hope that our next Prime Minister – whoever that may be – will welcome this report and embrace these proposals into their government’s agenda.”

Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, Communities Secretary and former Immigration Minister, said:

“It is right that as we look to a positive future beyond Brexit we look again at our approach to controlling migration and the targets we set.

“Immigration policy supports Britain’s continued success story as a growing economy. Changes in skills needs or workforce shortages mean that we need to continue to attract people to come to the UK and be part of this positive vision. But there is a need for balance.

“We have to do so in ways which recognise the cumulative pressures this can bring and the need for well integrated communities. Equally, we have to challenge ourselves to ensure we aren’t using immigration as a simple fix to dealing with skills needs or structural issues within our labour market which require more systemic change.

“That’s why I welcome Onwards thoughtful contribution to this debate and the rightful focus on creating a ‘sustainable’ migration system with appropriate external scrutiny and analysis to hold Government to account. Immigration policy and how we create an effective system that gives confidence to the public will remain an important and sensitive issue. We need to have a wider debate on the next steps and I am sure this report will help promote that discussion.”


For media inquiries, contact Will Tanner at [email protected] or 07958 383 223.