"Immigration soars to new record," screams the Daily Express headline. True, but the real story is more complicated. There are in fact many different things going on here, not all of them by any means troublesome for Daily Express readers.
Alongside the headline 3.9m people who have immigrated to Britain in the last ten years, for example, just under 2m others have left Britain for other countries. Brits are more prosperous than they were, making them better able to retire early and head off to the sun overseas. The increasing globalization of the world economy means that more Brits are being posted abroad by their companies, and more can find work abroad on their own, working in or advising companies in other countries. Already, something like 5.5m Britons actually live abroad. And some of our emigrants are people who had emigrated here from other countries and now want to return to their homeland – perhaps they feel that they have earned enough to give themselves a better start back home, or perhaps the country they came from has returned to a more peaceful state.
So is this immigration pattern worrying at all? Certainly, some people on low incomes have found it more difficult to get work as unskilled and semi-skilled workers come in – 800,000 of them from Eastern Europe alone since the EU enlarged in 2004. And rising immigrant numbers put a strain on public services such as education. On the other hand, I for one am glad that Britain is a tolerant, safe haven for people who face conflict, corrupt governments and economic destitution at home. And I am glad that Brits are now exporting their skills and their values of tolerance abroad.
Of course, if immigration occurred naturally, there would be less concern. The trouble is that it so often happens in large waves as a result of political events. If people from Eastern Europe had not been walled in, for example, they might well have come in greater numbers, but over a much longer period of time. If world politicians had less control over their peoples, Daily Express readers would be a much happier bunch.