Should Britain Leave the EU to Reduce Immigration?

Some people say that Britain is full, that our infrastructure and services can't cope with the extra numbers, and that this rate of growth in the population is unprecedented. They even say that we need to leave the EU to reduce the number of people entering the UK. I have a keen research interest in demography. So, I looked at some data and did some simple calculations. Here's an alternative view.

Between 1831 and 1901 the British population grew at a rate of 1.2 per cent annually, mostly as a consequence of high fertility and the 'epidemiological dividend' where improved survival rates drove mortality lower.

Between 1960 and 2015 UK population growth never rose above 0.8 per cent per year (1962 and 2007-11), was under 0.5 per cent for most of the period, was very slightly negative in 1975-77 and 1982, and is currently (2014/15) at around 0.7 per cent. The inward migration component of Britain's current population growth is about 53 per cent, meaning that 47 per cent of UK population growth is due to natural increase. In 2015 55 per cent of the migration component was due to immigration by EU citizens. So, in 2015 29 per cent of Britain's population growth was due to immigration by EU citizens, and 71 per cent of population growth was due to other causes.

Even if one agrees that immigration needs to be reduced and it could or should be reduced by leaving the EU, the data shows that a decrease of, say, a quarter in EU migration (a BIG decrease) would achieve only a small decrease in overall growth rates of around 0.1 percentage points - meaning that the population would continue to grow at a roughly similar rate. And that is assuming, of course, that non-EU migration would not increase to fill the resulting gap in labour demand.

The Victorians coped well with a higher rate of population increase, investing in infrastructure that survives to this day. Of course there were Malthusians among them, but they were largely ignored. Quality of life improved markedly through this period, which in itself pushed population growth rates higher by reducing mortality. Indeed, many people who complain of present-day population growth look back admiringly, even longingly, at that period as one of the most prosperous, productive and successful in British history.

Why can't we cope with a slower rate of increase than Victorian Britain? Well, first of all, I disagree that we can't cope. However, that feeling of not coping that some people claim to be experiencing is probably due more to governments past and present not investing in the necessary housing and infrastructure, not training enough younger people to fill labour demand (particularly in public services), and instead giving our resources away to the already rich.

Leaving the EU is not the solution. Investment is the solution.