Net migration into the UK will be above 200,000 from next year, the Treasury watchdog has said, despite Rishi Sunak’s pledge to cut the numbers entering the country.
The impact of post-Brexit visa rules has been reassessed by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – which concludes they are far more generous than predicted just 8 months ago.
In March, the OBR forecast 136,000 more people would arrive than leave the UK in 2023, a figure expected to decline only slightly to 129,000 in 2026.
But it now says net migration will be 224,000 next year and “settle at 205,000 a year from 2026 onwards,” in its assessment of Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement.
The big change could cause political problems for the prime minister – after his home secretary, Suella Braverman, said she wants to reinstate the target of below 100,000 arrivals a year.
This week, at the G20 summit, Mr Sunak said he is “committed to getting migration down over time”, while refusing to “put an arbitrary number on it”.
Richard Hughes, the OBR’s chair, told The Independent that official statistics on visas “leads us to believe that the new post-Brexit migration regime is leading to a higher steady state level of migration that we expected”.
“For that reason, we’ve revised up what we think to be the steady state level of migration in our forecasts,” he said.
Higher migration will have an economic boost for the UK, the OBR says, but a modest one – delivering an expected 0.1 per cent boost to overall growth.
James Kirkup, director of the Social Market Foundation, which campaigns for looser migration rules, said: “Without these workers, Britain would face even bigger tax rises and deeper spending cuts.
“Having accepted this economic reality, ministers must speak honestly to voters about economic benefits of immigration.”
The OBR, which is forecasting a 7 per cent slump in living standards up until the 2024 general election, also said the economic hit from Brexit is now “baked in”.
It reiterated its forecast of a 4 per cent decline in output over 15 years, caused by erecting trade barriers with the EU after the UK left the single market.
The overall economy is now forecast to shrink by 1.4 per cent in 2023 – rather than grow by 1.8 per cent – as part of a 2 per cent decline over the course of the recession.
Squeezed incomes, higher interest rates and tumbling house prices, which the OBR expects to fall by 9 per cent by 2024, would all contribute to a recession lasting “just over a year”.