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Is 70 million too many?

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Posted on September 05th 2012

Today (Thursday) sees the debate in the House of Commons provoked by a successful petition organised by Migration Watch, the rabidly anti-immigration ‘think’-tank. It has to be said that getting 140,000 signatures on any petition is a real achievement, even if they did do so with the active support of The Sun and The Daily Mail.

Much is made in the Common’s motion and the petition of the figure 70 million. It’s a totally arbitrary figure, arrived at because of its roundness and not because of any scientific consideration. It bears no relation to a critical population density, an overall weight of population that might sink our island, or an economic consideration. It is a number chosen because it fits well with tabloid headlines.


Aside from picking big numbers out of the air, Migration Watch have a dodgy track record when it comes to generating figures and publishing research. Here’s just one example, in their key document “What is The Problem?” they state:

“... there are more than 300 primary schools in which over 70% have English as a second language; this is nearly a half million children.”

This assumes an average of 1,670 pupils in each primary school. The largest primary school in the UK - Gascoigne in Barking & Dagenham - is expected to grow to 1200 pupils by 2014, way below the inflated figure given by Migration Watch (MW). In reality the average size of a primary school in the UK is 241 pupils, meaning 300 primary schools represent a figure closer to little more than 72,000 pupils. Perhaps MW researchers may care to join the maths classes at primary school for the coming year; they might usefully swell the figures a tad.


In another characteristic manipulation of the facts to suit their own agenda, MW call for a stricter immigration policy for the UK, while quoting population density figures only for England. It helps their case superficially, but it’s a pretty basic trick to spot. You cannot apply for visas to England – only the UK. MW say England is the 6th most populated country in the world (because they exclude island and city states). The United Nations has the real figures: The UK is the 39th most crowded nation in the world. A rise to 70 million people living here would make the UK the 31st most crowded (assuming all other countries have constant populations). The UK’s population would have to rise to 97 million to achieve a population density on a par with The Netherlands.

Spectacularly, MW invoke some dystopian future where the “building seven cities the size of Birmingham” will be necessary. But considering there are currently 720,000 empty homes in the UK – which could go a long way to housing any population increase.

Mass Immigration?

MW's petition claims the UK has been subjected to 'mass immigration' for ten years. Perhaps this is a seemingly more scientific version of the old favourite of 'swamping' by immigrants, but it is equally questionable. The UK's foreign-born population is 11.3%, lower than France, the USA, Australia, Austria, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. Numbers coming in to the UK are a tiny proportion of those arriving in places neighbouring troubled countries such as Afghanistan or Syria. That is mass immigration; here is a case of overactive imagination and the prejudice and xenophobia of a few influential people - from MW to MPs in each of the major parties.

Public Opinion

This debate has been made possible not because of the actions of a few, but the reaction of people to the actions of MW, tabloid editors and compliant MPs. The issue of public opinion on immigration has to be addressed. What is needed is a serious attempt to shape political opinion by persuading people of an alternative to the consensus.

We sent a briefing to MPs in advance of the debate in Parliament. You can download your own copy below.

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