Net migration to Britain reached its second highest level on record in 2015, according to the final set of official data to be released before an EU referendum in which the number of new arrivals from Europe has driven much opposition to the bloc.
Net migration, the difference between the number of people entering and leaving Britain, hit 333,000 in 2015, the second-highest level for a 12-month period since records began in 1975, the Office for National Statistics said.
The numbers were seized upon by those campaigning for Britain to vote to leave the EU in a June 23 referendum, who have blamed the bloc’s freedom of movement rules for high levels of immigration.
“We would be able to decide our immigration policy on the needs of the British economy (in the event of a Brexit),” Boris Johnson, figurehead of the “Out” camp, told Sky News television.
“What is happening at the moment is being done completely without the consent of the British people,” he said.
In 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to reduce the annual level of net migration to below 100,000 but has failed to keep his pledge, partly due to the number of EU citizens moving to Britain.
Net migration from the bloc was estimated to be 184,000 in the year to December, up from 174,000 in 2014, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said on Thursday.
Immigration and the economy have consistently ranked as two of the most important issues in the EU referendum, but Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said leaving the bloc would not reduce migration.
“We need to continue the reforms to reduce net migration from outside of Europe, which still maintains the majority (of new arrivals),” he said.
In February, Cameron negotiated a deal with European partners to curb some welfare payments to new EU migrants which he says addresses public concerns about the level of immigration.
But critics say it will do nothing to reduce the number of people coming to Britain attracted by higher wages than in their home countries, the presence of large communities of migrants, the widely taught English language and other factors.